Al Qaeda had no direct involvement in last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Instead, the attack on September 11, 2012 was the work of local fighters, said the newspaper in an investigation published on its website and based on extensive reporting in the Libyan city.
The report is likely to stir up further controversy over the circumstances surrounding the attack, with President Barack Obama and his administration having been accused of covering up what happened in Benghazi.
“Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault,” said the newspaper.
“The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel [Muammar] Gaddafi.”
Local rebel leader was ‘central figure’
The newspaper, citing American officials briefed on a criminal probe into the killings, alleged that a local rebel leader named Ahmed Abu Khattala, said to have disdain for the United States despite its help overthrowing Gaddafi, is the prime suspect in orchestrating the Benghazi killings.
The Times report placed him at the consulate at the time of the attack and in an interview with the newspaper he said he was indeed present, but denied he was responsible.
"Mr Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Gaddafi on his list of infidel enemies," the newspaper said.
"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," the report added.
The Times said Abu Khattala was "a central figure" in what unfolded, citing numerous Libyans present at the time, but also reported that the attack had "spontaneous elements".
Anti-Muslim video may have sparked attack
The attacks touched off a political storm in Washington with Republicans accusing Obama's administration of changing its story over how the assault was carried out and who was responsible.
Initially, the sacking of the mission was described by American officials as having been sparked by the anti-Muslim video "Innocence of Muslims," which triggered protests across the Arab world.
But US officials later said that some of those behind the assault had links to organised al Qaeda extremists and that it was an act of terrorism.
However, this later version of events was contradicted by the Times report, which said anger over the “Innocence of Muslims” may have indeed sparked 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,” said the newspapers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2013-12-29