Benghazi attack ‘not linked to al-Qaeda’

Report: No evidence was found of al-Qaeda involvement in a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year

Published: Updated:

Al-Qaeda was not directly involved in an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last year, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

The attack, which took place on Sept. 11, 2012, left four Americans dead and led many to point blame at al-Qaeda insurgents.

But the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three of his countrymen were actually killed by local fighters, stated the publication’s investigation that was posted on its website following extensive reporting in the Libyan city.

The newspaper “turned up no evidence that al-Qaeda or other international groups had a role in the assault,” reported the newspaper, basing its information on interviews with Libyans believed to have direct knowledge of the attack.

“The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics during the uprising,” against the country’s long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi, killed in October 2011, according to the report.

It noted that the attack may have been sparked by citizens that were angered by an anti-Islamic video that aired on local television channels, and headed to the U.S. mission.

“Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters,” the report added.

A local rebel leader named Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is said to have disdain for the U.S. despite its help in overthrowing Qaddafi, is a prime suspect behind planning the Benghazi killings, stated the paper citing American officials who were briefed for a criminal probe on the killings.

In an interview with the newspaper, Abu Khattala said that he was present at the U.S. mission at the time of the attack, but denied his involvements with the killings.

“Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies,” said the newspaper.

“But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person CIA station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation,” added the report.

While Abu Khattala was a “central figure,” in the events, citing several Libyans that were present at the time, the attack had “spontaneous elements,” stated the Times’ report.

U.S. officials had said that the Benghazi attack was an act of terrorism as some of the members behind the attack were linked to al-Qaeda extremists.

Initially, however, the officials explained that the dismissal of the mission was sparked by the anti-Muslim video “Innocence of Muslims,” which had triggered protests across the Arab world.

The Times’ report is likely to spark controversy in Washington, where Obama’s administration denied repeated accusations of covering up what happened in Benghazi.