State: 'Core al Qaeda' didn't plan Benghazi

The State Department on Monday said it has no evidence that “core al Qaeda” was behind last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“We have no indications that core al Qaeda, which I think is what most people are referring to when they talk about quote ‘al Qaeda,’ directed or planned what happened in Benghazi,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a briefing. 

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The statement appears to leave open the possibility that associates or followers of the terrorist network were involved in the assault. 

The comments come on the heels of a New York Times investigation published over the weekend that found no evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Some members of Congress have criticized the Times report. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the committee, on Sunday said they have seen evidence that al Qaeda had a role.

In November, Rogers told Fox News, “it was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an al Qaeda-led event.”

The State Department spokeswoman acknowledged that al Qaeda’s ideology could have influenced the local militias she said were behind the attack.

“Well, it actually matters whether you say core al Qaeda directed and planned it, or they didn't, or it's just some folks that are affiliated with a local group or militia or terrorist organization — that's what we're looking into right now — whether they took some inspiration from some sort of similar ideology,” Harf said.

She pushed back on those making stronger statements.

“That distinction actually matters, and for everyone that says they want to know all the facts about Benghazi, I think it's worth their time to look into all these accounts, to look into in depth stories like this and others, and really take that all into account, before going out and making blanket statements that the facts just quite frankly don't back up,” she said.

In a statement that fits with the Times account, Harf said an anti-Muslim video did play a role in the attack, calling that “common sense” from looking at how it sparked protests around the world.

The Times account pointed to local militias as being behind the planning. Harf said Ansar al-Sharia, one of the main groups cited in the Times story as participating in the assault, is “not an affiliate of core al Qaeda.”