A top official of the Obama administration admitted in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that the Sept. 11 murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact "a terrorist attack." The official also admitted that the government has intelligence to the effect that al Qaeda terrorists were directly involved in the attack in which gunmen attacked the consulate with small arms fire and rockets, killing the ambassador and three other American personnel and incinerating the mission.
Speaking before the committee, Director Matt Olsen of the National Counterterrorism Center said on September 19, "I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy." This was in response to questions lodged by committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT) about the attack.
Olsen said it appears there were attackers from a number of different militant groups that operate in Libya. "We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda's affiliates; in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," he said.
The Obama administration is not yet saying whether the attack was pre-planned or whether terrorists took advantage of protests by Muslims against a film made in the U.S. they found objectionable. "It appears that individuals who were certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning hours of September 12th. We do know that a number of militants in the 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," Olsen said.
Olsen's comments appear to underscore those made by critics of the Obama administration's policies and its reactions to the anti-American disturbances in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and nearly 20 other countries. Last week, for example, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the protests in Cairo and Benghazi came as a response by outraged Muslims in response to a video entitled 'The Innocence of Muslims' and not a pre-planned attack. On September 19, however, Carney did not repeat his earlier assertion that the video was solely to blame, but repeated that there is no evidence the Benghazi attack was pre-planned.