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Reports: Militants Quickly Claimed Responsibility For Benghazi Attack

A burned vehicle outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after the Sept. 11 attack.
Esam Omran Al-Fetori
Reuters /Landov
A burned vehicle outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after the Sept. 11 attack.

Reuters and Fox News have obtained copies of an email sent about two hours after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which the White House, Pentagon and other agencies are told that the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia had "claimed responsibility."

Just who in Washington knew what and when they knew it about the attack that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead has become an ongoing topic on the presidential campaign trail. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of not being candid and of misleading the American public by suggesting the attack was motivated by an anti-Muslim video produced by an Egyptian-American living in California. President Obama has pointed to comments he made on Sept. 12, in which he spoke about "acts of terror" when discussing the attack as showing that terrorism was among the factors involved that the administration was citing.

Terrorist organizations often quickly claim responsibility after incidents such as the Benghazi attack — sometimes when they were not actually involved. And such claims may be among many pieces of sometimes conflicting evidence. Reuters writes that by Sept. 12:

"There were indications that members of both Ansar al-Sharia, a militia based in the Benghazi area, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of al-Qaida's faltering central command, may have been involved in organizing the attacks.

"One U.S. intelligence official said that during the first classified briefing about Benghazi given to members of Congress, officials 'carefully laid out the full range of sparsely available information, relying on the best analysis available at the time.'

"The official added, however, that the initial analysis of the attack that was presented to legislators was mixed.

" 'Briefers said extremists were involved in attacks that appeared spontaneous, there may have been a variety of motivating factors, and possible links to groups such as (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar al-Sharia) were being looked at closely,' the official said."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.