U.S. Suspects Attack On Ambassador To Libya Was Planned
Though they may have occurred on the same day within hours of each other, but the initial speculation is that there are vast differences between the protests in Cairo and the attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others:
WASHINGTON —The Obama administration suspects that the fiery attack in Libya that killed the American ambassador and three other diplomats may have been planned rather than a spontaneous mob getting out of control, American officials said Wednesday.
Officials in Washington studying the events of the past 24 hours have focused on the differences between the protests on the American embassy in Cairo and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, the Libyan city where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the other Americans were killed.
The protesters in Cairo appeared to be a genuinely spontaneous unarmed mob angered by an anti-Islam video produced in the United States. By contrast, it appeared the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Intelligence reports are inconclusive at this point, officials said, but indications suggest the possibility that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.
Officials in Washington said no warning had been distributed inside the United States government in the days prior to the assault on the consulate, either on the possibility of an attack to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary or more specifically that a plot might be afoot in Libya. That suggests that American intelligence was not picking up unusual communications or other evidence pointing to a planned attack.
About 24 hours before the consulate attack, however, Al Qaeda posted to militant forums on the Web a video in which its leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, acknowledged the death in an American drone strike in June of his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi, and called on Libyans to avenge the death.
If it were established that the deaths of the American diplomats resulted not from the spontaneous anger of a crowd about an insult to Islam but from a long-planned Qaeda plot, that might sharply shift perceptions of the events. But officials cautioned that the issue was still under urgent study.
For the moment, at least, there appear to be conflicting versions of how Ambassador Stevens died, including one that involves an attack that took place in some unspecified location away from Consular grounds:
An unidentified Libyan official in Benghazi told Reuters that Mr. Stevens and three staff members were killed in Benghazi “when gunmen fired rockets at them.” It was not clear where in the city the attack took place. The Libyan official said the ambassador was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire, Reuters said.
Agence France-Presse quoted the Libyan Interior Ministry as saying that Mr. Stevens and the three staff members were killed when a mob attacked the consulate in Benghazi. Al Jazeera’s English-language Web site said Mr. Stevens died of smoke inhalation after a mob set fire to the building, and a Libyan physician who treated Mr. Stevens at the hospital was quoted by The Associated Press as saying he had tried to revive him for 90 minutes.
In Italy, the Web site of the newspaper Corriere della Sera showed images of what it said was the American Consulate in Benghazi ablaze with men carrying automatic rifles and waving V-for-victory signs, silhouetted against the burning buildings. One photograph showed a man closely resembling Mr. Stevens apparently unconscious, his face seeming to be smudged with smoke and his eyes closed.
Some of this, no doubt, is due to the “fog of war” effect, especially in a city where there isn’t a large U.S. media presence. At the very least, though, the fact that weapons like “rockets,” which I assume likely refers to RPGs, may have been involved in this attack suggests strongly that this was much more than just some spontaneous attack over an obscure YouTube video, or that someone was using the protests as cover for something more nefarious. As I noted in the comments to Dave Schuler’s post, Benghazi has been the site of several attacks against western targets in recent months and the Eastern deserts of Libya are also an area where forces sympathetic to al Qaeda that were part of the Libyan rebel forces reportedly set up camp in the months after the downfall of the Qaddafi regime, so that would be one rather obvious suspect there especially given the fact that yesterday was September 11th.
If this is true, then it may indicate that there’s a far more serious problem in Libya than just a bunch of people upset about a movie they’ve never actually seen.