By George Grant.
Tripoli, 17 November:
United States General David Petraeus has claimed that the . . .[restrict]Central Intelligence Agency knew all along that the 11 September attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was terrorist attack orchestrated by Al-Qaeda linked militants.
During two appearances before Congressional committees yesterday, Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director on 9 November following revelations of an extramarital affair, said the public explanation had been edited to prevent alerting groups under suspicion.
Four Americans were killed in the attack, including the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
Controversy has raged for months in the US over the White House’s initial version of events, in which it was stated that the assault was a spontaneous protest and not premeditated.
That claim was made five days after the strike by US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy – sparked by this hateful video”, Rice said on 16 September, in reference to the anti-Muslim film Innocence of Muslims, which denigrates the Prophet Mohammed.
Rice subsequently admitted that this version of events was false, but claimed her account was based on intelligence she had received at the time, effectively placing the blame publicly on the CIA.
Rancour over who said what and when over Benghazi became one of the major hot buttons of the recent US presidential election, with Republican challenger Mitt Romney repeatedly calling into question the Obama administration’s competence in its handling of the affair.
Doubt still remains as to whether Rice was provided with a CIA briefing for her early statement or not, but Petraeus’s remarks are certain to place further pressure on the White House, and may even threaten Rice’s prospects as the potential successor to Hillary Clinton as US secretary of state.
Last week it emerged that Petraeus had himself paid a secret visit to Libya in October, ostensibly to examine what remained of the CIA’s presence in the country after the US abandoned the agency’s base along with the Benghazi mission following the 11 September assault.
Throughout this affair, National Congress President Mohamed Magarief has maintained that the strike was indeed “a planned attack, meticulously executed”. Magarief has also consistently claimed that the incident involved foreigners and that investigations could turn up “a link to Al-Qaeda”.
The prime suspect in the case has long been the Ansar Al-Sharia brigade, the militant Islamist group subsequently broken up and driven out of its Benghazi headquarters by anti-extremism demonstrators.
For its part, Ansar Al-Sharia denied having anything to do with the assault, demanding instead that “Western intelligence agencies” be taken to task for undermining Islamic law in the country.
In spite of investigations by both the Libyan authorities and the FBI, however, not a single person has been charged with involvement to date, although a handful of people were arrested in the days immediately following the assault.
The Libya Herald’s account of what happened on 11 September can be found here.