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New Evidence Shows Attacks on U.S. Consulate in Libya Linked to Terrorists

September 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to Libya.

The State Department is temporarily withdrawing more staff from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for what it called security reasons, that according to a senior official in New York late today.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is still trying to determine who was responsible for the assault on the American mission in Benghazi that killed a U.S. ambassador earlier this month.

LEON PANETTA, U.S. Defense Secretary: I think, pretty clearly, it was a terrorist attack.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the Pentagon today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seemed to have little doubt about what happened at the U.S. Consulate in Libya more than two weeks ago.

LEON PANETTA: There’s a group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate and against our individuals.

What terrorists were involved, I think, still remains to be determined by the investigation. But it clearly was a group of terrorists who conducted that attack against that facility.

JEFFREY BROWN: What seemed clear today, though, had seemed less so just days ago.

The original explanation for what happened the evening of September 11 was that an America-made movie denigrating Islam had incited a mob, which had then stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

That attack left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

But in the weeks since, even as protests spread across the Muslim world over the anti-Muslim film, a chorus of doubt grew over whether militant extremists, including al-Qaida, had planned the attack to coincide with September 11.

And the entire issue, perhaps inevitably, grew into a political dispute.

Earlier this week, eight leading House Republicans sent the president a letter saying they were — quote — “disturbed by the public statements made by members of the administration that would lead the American public to believe this attack was a protest gone wrong, rather than what it truly was, a terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11.”

Campaign in Ohio yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told FOX News he thinks the president is concealing the truth.

Traveling with President Obama in Ohio yesterday, a White House spokesman said the administration has followed an ongoing investigation carefully. He said president believes it was a terrorist attack.

Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaida are a growing concern in North Africa. This video shot in July shows one such group destroying ancient shrines in Mali.

Yesterday, at a special U.N. meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned of a rise of extremism in two regions of North Africa known as the Sahel and Maghreb and explicitly linked al-Qaida to the attack on the consulate.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.

And they’re working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.

The United States is stepping up our counterterrorism efforts across the Maghreb and Sahel, and we’re working with the Libyan government and other partners to find those responsible for the attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi and bring them to justice.

JEFFREY BROWN: CNN reported last week that, before his death, Ambassador Stevens had expressed concerns over the rise of Islamic extremism in the region in his private diary.