New Evidence Links Benghazi Attack to Anti-Muslim Movie

The video was a catalyst for the attack on the US Consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

al-monitor The remains of US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in an attack in Libya are taken off a transport aircraft during a return of remains ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, Sept. 14, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed.

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al-qaeda, youtube, us, jihadists, february 17 martyrs brigades, facebook, cia, benghazi

Jul 8, 2013

US President Barack Obama’s appointment of Susan Rice as his new national security adviser has added fuel to the fire of a controversy over Rice’s role as US ambassador to the UN in communicating administration “talking points” in the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2012, attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya. Five days after the attack, Rice famously went  on Sunday talk shows and suggested that the attack had been a “spontaneous” response to an anti-Islam YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” — a matter of a demonstration that “spun out of control.”

But in a news conference held three weeks later, on Oct. 9, the State Department divulged that there was “nothing unusual” going on outside the compound on the day of the attack. Moreover, testifying before the House Oversight Committee in May, Gregory Hicks, the deputy to slain US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, said that he was on the phone with Stevens as the attack was underway, and his boss made no mention of any protest that preceded it. If there had been any protest, “I’m confident that Ambassador Stevens would have reported [it],” Hicks added. Similarly, the Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department under the chairmanship of former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering concluded that no protest took place prior to the attack. It should be noted, however, that the Pickering Report also makes repeated reference to a “crowd” assembled near or even inside the compound, suggesting thereby that more people were present than just the armed assailants.

There appears, then, to have been no demonstration. Nonetheless, Rice had it half right. The anti-Islam video did indeed play a role. Examination of contemporaneous chatter on Libyan websites shows that locals really were in an uproar about the video in both the run-up to and immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack. This finding is all the more significant inasmuch as the chatter in question comes from precisely the same extremist milieu as the presumed assailants. In the hours immediately preceding the attack, local Islamists were calling on their brethren to “do something” in response to the video. From both the source and tenor of these appeals, it is clear that they meant something more emphatic than just a peaceful demonstration.

Early versions of the “talking points” drafted by the CIA on Sep. 14, 2012, referenced indications that Islamic extremists were involved in the attack on the Benghazi mission and potential links to Ansar al-Sharia, a local al-Qaeda-affiliated militia. As explained by the Interim Progress Report issued by the chairs of five House committees, these points were omitted from the final version used by Rice.

Ansar al-Sharia appears to have maintained no less than three Facebook pages before the attack occurred. Unfortunately, all three disappeared from the Web shortly thereafter. But a kindred Facebook page, that of the Libyan Ansar Minbar, or “supporters platform,” remains online and provides an important window into the agitation embroiling the local Islamist scene around the time of the attack.

As numerous features of the site make clear, the supporters mentioned in the page’s name are none other than the “supporters of the Sharia” — that is, Ansar al-Sharia. The Ansar Minbar page is thus conceived as a kind of platform or forum for Ansar al-Sharia. In the current Libyan context, the latter term needs to be understood both in the narrow sense of the particular militia that goes by this name and in the broader sense of all those who sympathize with its aims, including many members of other militias.

The motto of the Ansar Minbar is “Together toward a better life under the auspices of Islamic Sharia.” Similar to Ansar al-Sharia, the Ansar Minbar features both an open Quran and the classical black jihadist flag in its logo. In the banner of its Facebook page, it also features a black map of Libya imprinted with the design of what is commonly known as the al-Qaeda flag — a variant of the classical black jihadist flag.

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