Two of the House’s top experts on terrorism blasted a New York Times report that says al-Qaida did not carry out the 2012 attack on the U.S diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The Times report, published Saturday and based on numerous interviews with Islamists in Benghazi, concludes that there was no evidence that al-Qaida or any other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault that killed four Americans on September 11, 2012.
Instead, the Times reports that the attack was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made anti-Islamic video, as the Obama administration first claimed. The attackers were entirely locally based Islamist malcontents with few if any contacts outside of Libya.
But New York Rep. Peter King, member and former chairman of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Fox News that the story’s premise that other anti-American militias led the attack is at best academic.
“It’s misleading,” King said. “It’s a distinction without a difference.” King specifically challenged the notion in the Times piece that the Libya-based terror group Ansar al-Shariah somehow was not part of the al-Qaida Islamist network.
“They are saying that al-Shariah is involved, but al-Shariah is a part of the al-Qaida umbrella, the al-Qaida network,” King said, challenging the Times’ conclusion that al-Shariah “had no known affiliations with terrorist groups.”
“Al-Shariah is a pro- al-Qaida terrorist organization,” King said, adding that the video had little to do with the attack, which he said was highly organized.
“This was a well-coordinated attack,” he said. “This was not a ragtag group.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, told “Fox News Sunday” that the attack was clearly an “al-Qaida-led event.”
Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said his panel has gone through 4,000 classified cables, talked to people on the ground and done a postmortem on the event. He doubts, he said, whether the newspaper conducted such an exhaustive investigation.
“So what did they get wrong?” host Chris Wallace asked.
“That al-Qaida was not involved in this,” Rogers said. “There was some level of pre-planning. We know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaida and their affiliates in Libya. We know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound even. … That tells me they didn’t talk to people on the ground who where doing the fighting, shooting and the intelligence-gathering.”
Fellow committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., agreed with Rogers that intelligence shows that al-Qaida was involved in the attack. But other groups were involved, too, Schiff said.
Schiff called it a “complex picture.” There was some pre-planning, he said, but it was not extensive, and people joined in the attack for multiple reasons, including because of an anti-Muslim video produced by a man in the United States.
Rogers also disputed the contention that al-Shariah was key to the attack. The intelligence shows otherwise, he told Wallace.
“Now, do they have differences of opinion with al-Qaida core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al-Qaida core? Definitely,” he said.
Rogers said he doesn’t know whether the story was politically motivated to clear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before an expected presidential run in 2016. But he is suspicious of the timing, especially with former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice talking about the subject on “60 Minutes” last week.
“I don’t want to speculate on why they might do it,” Rogers said, adding that what is being presented in The Times and on “60 Minutes” has been shown by committee testimony not to be accurate.
The attack killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
The Times’ conclusion also conflicts with other evidence, including the testimony of Greg Hicks, Stevens’ deputy, Fox reports.
Hicks described the video as “a non-event in Libya” at that time, and consequently not a significant trigger for the attack. Also, a separate report by a leading social media firm found that the first reference to the anti-Islam film that was initially blamed for sparking the attack was not detected on social media until a day later.
Rep. Darrell Issa also stood by his conclusions that a group affiliated with al-Qaida was involved.
“It was accurate,” Issa said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al-Qaida.”
Issa said that Times reporter David Kirkpatrick did “very good work” but that he has seen no evidence that the video was the attack’s leading cause, a claim made by then-UN ambassador Susan Rice in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
The administration should come clean about misstatements about the causes of the attack, even if those claims were made to protect the CIA outpost in Benghazi, Issa said.
“They went out on five stations and told the story that was at best a coverup for the CIA or at worst something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi,” Issa said.
Kirkpatrick, who also appeared on the show, said that Republicans like Issa, King and Rogers conflated local Islamic militant groups with international al-Qaida.
“If you’re using the term al-Qaida to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, If you’re going to call anybody like that ‘al-Qaida,’ then, okay,” he said.
A senior Obama administration official told NBC News on Saturday that the White House does not dispute the New York Times report.
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