Government officials and associated experts have been scrambling to determine the background of the horrifying attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya last week. While there are reports that the administration was informed in advance that there could be unrest, others maintain it was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam movie.
Now, the head of Libya’s new national congress is blaming al-Qaeda.
The Wall Street Journal reports (all subsequent emphasis added):
U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that they are investigating indications that a local group of Libyan militants, Ansar al Sharia, held a series of conversations Tuesday with al Qaeda extremists about the assault that day on the consulate, in the first sign of possible coordination in the attack between local fighters and the global terrorist movement.
The statement from Mohamed Al-Magarief, broadcast Friday during an interview the Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera, is the first time that a Libyan official has implicated the global terrorist organization in the chaotic events that raised tensions throughout the Middle East.
Mr. Magarief didn’t say how far in advance the attack had been planned. He said, however, that he believes the militants went to the consulate with violence in mind.
“I think this was al Qaeda,” Mr. Magarief said in the interview. “If you take into account the weapons used, like RPGs and other heavy weapons, it proves that it was preplanned. It’s a dirty act of revenge that has nothing to do with religion.”
However, officials caution that the facts are still not clear, and there are many elements at play.
A spokesman for Libya’s new Prime Minister accepted the blame for not properly containing the attacks, but asked: “What were the Americans thinking in having [Ambassador Stevens] there in the same week of the 9/11 anniversary, on the same day even, and when Al Qaeda leader Al Zawahiri had recently called publicly on Libyan sympathizers to avenge the death of one of his deputies?”
The Wall Street Journal continues:
Several current and former U.S. officials said extremist leaders linked with al Qaeda were communicating with members of Ansar al Sharia, the Libyan militia, after seeing violent anti-U.S. protests breaking out in Cairo. These officials identified the leaders as members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an al Qaeda branch in North Africa known as AQIM.
Libya has organized a joint task force along with the Americans and is conducting a manhunt for the suspected organizers of the attack. So far, four people have been arrested. As of Saturday, their interrogation was still under way, according to Fawzi Waniss, the head of the Supreme Security Council branch in Benghazi.
Mr. Magarief flew to Benghazi on Friday and laid a wreath on the consulate grounds in remembrance of the four dead Americans. He told al-Jazeera that he considered the attack the work of “experienced masterminds” who were seeking revenge against the United States.