America’s ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, insisted on Sunday that last week’s attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya was not premeditated, contracting the Libyan government’s view that the act was planned in advance.
Rice told ABC News’ This Week that the administration’s “current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo.”
President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney had similarly said on Friday that the United States “were not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the American mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” He said that the conflagration was wholly due to an anti-Islam film that satirizes the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
This is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at American policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.
Rice also described the riots as a “reaction to this very offensive video” although it has been online since July.
Islamists stormed the United States embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and the consulate in Benghazi that same night. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the assault which coincided with the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Rice suggested that protests outside the consulate had been overtaken by radicals. “It seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons.”
Republican senator John McCain, a critic of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy, pointed to the assailants’ weaponry as evidence that the attack was, in fact, premeditated. “Most people don’t bring rocket propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” he said on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “That was an act of terror.”
Michigan congressman Mike Rogers, who chairs the House intelligence committee, was also skeptical. “If we all decide to rally around the video as the problem we [are] going to make a serious mistake and we’re going to make, I think, diplomatic mistakes as we move forward,” he told Fox News Sunday.
Libyan president Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf told CBS that he had “no doubt” that the consulate attack was preplanned. “It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he said.