Susan Rice

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Sunday that the deadly attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was a “spontaneous reaction” to an anti-Islam video and not a premeditated assault.

Rice said the “best information at present” indicates the violence that has spread across the Middle East has been a direct response to the “Innocence of Muslims” film that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad — despite serious doubts cast by U.S. lawmakers and directly contradicting Libya’s own president, who said the Benghazi assault was a planned, Al-Qaeda-linked attack. An FBI investigation is ongoing, Rice said.

“This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world,” Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Obviously our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and what has happened is condemnable. But this is a spontaneous reaction to a video and it’s not dissimilar but perhaps on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with the [Salman Rushdie's novel] ‘Satanic Verses’, with the [2006 Danish newspaper] cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Rice said the current assessment of what happened in Benghazi is that it was “initially a spontaneous reaction to…the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted of course by the video.”

“What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding, they came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya, and it escalated into a much more violent episode. That’s our best judgement now,” she said.

Libyan President Mohammad Magarief, who announced Sunday that 50 people had been arrested in connection with the attack, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” the assault was “definitely planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago and they were planning criminal acts since their arrival.”

Magarief said some of those arrested had ties to Al-Qaeda.

“The way these perpetrators acted and moved and their choosing the specific date [of Sept. 11] for this so-called demonstration, I think this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined,” Magarief said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said on CBS he doesn’t buy the line that what happened in Libya was spontaneous.

“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he said. “That was an act of terror. And for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignorant of the facts.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent, said focusing solely on the film was a mistake, particularly given the timing of the attack.

“There’s other information, classified information we have that just makes you stop for a minute and pause,” Rogers said.