The office of the U.S. intelligence chief revised its assessment of a strike this month on a U.S. consulate in Libya, calling it a planned terrorist attack.
U.S. officials initially described the September 11 attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens, as spontaneous, arising from protests against an anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims.
“As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organised terrorist attack carried out by extremists,” Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said Friday.
“It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate,” he said. “However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic to al-Qaeda.” Mr. Turner emphasized that the attack was still under investigation and information released thus far was preliminary and could change.
President Barack Obama’s government has come under criticism, particularly from rival Republicans, for changing its assessment of the Benghazi attack, which occurred on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York.
A leading Republican member of the House of Representatives called Friday on Susan Rice to step down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accusing her of making misleading statements about the consulate attack.
Representative Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Ms. Rice had misstated the facts when she said the attack was spontaneous.
“I believe that this was such a failure of foreign policy ... and leadership,” Mr. King said on CNN.
Mr. King referred to comments Ms. Rice made in television appearances five days after the attack. The comments left “the very clear impression that this was not a terrorist attack,” he told Newsday, a New York newspaper.
“This to me was such a gross misstatement of the facts,” Mr. King told Newsday. “It was sending wrong information to the country and the world.” Ms. Rice said September 16 that the best assessment at the time was that the attack “was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo,” referring to protests at the U.S. embassy in Egypt that were sparked by the film Innocence of Muslims.
Recently, Obama administration officials have said the attack was a terrorist strike.
U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that there was no question the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was committed by terrorists.
Mr. Panetta, however, stopped short of pinning the attack on a specific group although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton late Wednesday suggested there were ties with an al-Qaeda-linked group in nearby Mali.
Ms. Rice already had defended what she said five days after the attacks even before Mr. King called for her resignation.
“Ambassador Rice’s comments were prefaced at every turn with a clear statement that an FBI investigation was under way that would provide the definitive accounting of the events that took place in Benghazi,” spokeswoman Erin Pelton said.