Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show.
The emails, obtained by Reuters from government sources not connected with U.S. spy agencies or the State Department and who requested anonymity, specifically mention that the Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks.
The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi assault, which President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials ultimately acknowledged was a “terrorist” attack carried out by militants with suspected links to al Qaeda affiliates or sympathizers.
Administration spokesmen, including White House spokesman Jay Carney, citing an unclassified assessment prepared by the CIA, maintained for days that the attacks likely were a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film.
While officials did mention the possible involvement of “extremists,” they did not lay blame on any specific militant groups or possible links to al Qaeda or its affiliates until intelligence officials publicly alleged that on September 28.
The first email was sent at 4:05 p.m. ET with the subject line “U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack (SBU).”
“The Regional Security Officer reports the diplomatic mission is under attack,” the email reads. “Embassy Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well. Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four COM personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support.
“The operations Center will provide updates as available.”
The second email came at 4:54 p.m. ET, with a subject line “Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi (SBU)”
“Embassy Tripoli reports the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi has stopped and the compound has been cleared. A response team is on site attempting to locate COM personnel.”
The third email came at 6:07 p.m. ET and was sent to a different email list but still includes the White House Situation Room address and a subject line of “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack (SBU).”
“Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli,” the email reads.
- White House deception on Benghazi Consulate Attack revealed ahead of congressional testimony (politisite.com)