Libyan security officials say American diplomats were warned about potential violent unrest in Benghazi three days before U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff were killed in a fiery attack on the U.S. consulate, The Independent reports.
This information comes after Libya's interim President Mohammed el-Megarif said his government obtained information that suggests the attack on the American consulate was coordinated by a radical Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaida,
But officials in the U.S., including U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, continue to insist that the killings were the result of spontaneous protests that erupted after an anti-Muslim video was posted on YouTube.
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The Independent has reported diplomatic sources who said that the threat of an attack against US interests in the region was known to the US administration 48 hours before it took place. The alert was issued by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, but not made public. A State Department spokesman maintained: "We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the US Mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent."
But President Megarif told the American station National Public Radio: "We firmly believe that this was a pre-calculated, pre-planned attack that was carried out specifically to attack the US Consulate. A few of those who joined in were foreigners who had entered Libya from different directions, some of them definitely from Mali and Algeria."
A senior official of the biggest militia in Benghazi, the February 17th Brigade, told CNN that he had warned US diplomats of a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Benghazi three days before the attack. "The situation is frightening, it scares us," he said he had stressed during the meeting. Mr Stevens had been back in Libya for only a short time before US security officials decided it would be safe to make the journey to Benghazi during the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The British consulate in the city was shut after an ambush of a convoy carrying Dominic Asquith, the UK ambassador, in which his bodyguard were injured. The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross offices had been bombed and there had been a spate of political assassinations.
But Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney continue to deny that the Benghazi attack was planned ahead of time or that it was directed at America or the Obama administration.
"Our current best assessment... is that... it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo," Rice said. "A small number of people came to the consulate. It seems to have been hijacked by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons... And it then evolved from there."
Carney said on Friday that the attacks and protests in the Middle East were not directed at the "the administration," the "American people" or U.S. policy.
Though some of the Americans escaped from the consulate and made it to a so-called "safe house" at a secret location, Stevens was reportedly taken to the hospital by a group of Libyans, where doctors say he died from smoke inhalation. The Americans at the safe house also came under mortar fire.
Captain Fathi al-Obeidi, who had taken an eight-strong American rescue team which had arrived from Tripoli to the safe house, said the attack was far too sophisticated and efficient for an impromptu attack.
"I don't know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries," he said.
Additionally, Libya's national congress said on Sunday that roughly 50 people had been arrested in connection with the Benghazi attack, however, the country's interior ministry put the figure at a lower number.