By Pam Benson
A US counterterrorism Chief has told Congress that the assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was a terrorist attack. At a Senate hearing in Washington DC, the National Counterterrorism Centre Director Matthew Olsen said the best information so far indicates that armed extremists did not plan in advance to assault the Benghazi consulate last Tuesday, but took advantage of an opportunity to do so during a demonstration over an anti-Muslim film.
Olsen said the investigation continues and facts are being developed. But he said it “appears that individuals who were certainly well armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning of September 12. “We do know that a number of militants in area, as I mentioned, are well armed and maintain those arms. What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack,” he said.
That point was stressed Wednesday as well by White House spokesman Jay Carney who said: “It is a fact that there are in post-revolution, post-war Libya armed groups, there are bad actors, hostile to the government, hostile to the West, hostile to the United States and as has been the case in other countries in the region, it is certainly conceivable that these groups take advantage of and exploit situations that develop when they develop to protest against or attack either westerners, Americans, western sites or American sites.”
But some senators on the Homeland Security Committee did not agree with the suggestion that the attack was spontaneous. Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican vice chairman of the panel from Maine, is convinced the incident was a premeditated, pre-planned attack tied to the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
“The attack in Benghazi was not a black swan, but rather an attack that should have been anticipated based on previous attacks against western targets, the proliferation of dangerous weapons, the presence of al Qaeda in that country and the overall threat environment,” Collins said. “I just don’t think that people come to protest equipped with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and other heavy weapons.”