By Peter Sullivan - 12/28/13 05:40 PM EST
A New York Times investigation of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, concluded that al Qaeda did not play a role, but an anti-Muslim video was a factor.
Based on interviews with witnesses, the report found that local militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala was the central figure behind attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four other Americans.
It said the attack was pre-planned, but grew as people angry about the anti-Muslim video, “Innocence of Muslims” poured in spontaneously.
The newspaper notes that not only is there no evidence of a link to al Qaeda, but someone connected to al Qaeda expressed surprise upon hearing of the attack.
This account is at odds with claims Republicans used to attack the Obama administration.
“It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an Al Qaeda-led event,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month on Fox News. “This was a pre-planned, organized terrorist event, not a video. That whole part was debunked time and time again.”
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), all fierce critics of the administration’s handling of Benghazi, also attributed the attack to al Qaeda.
“Al-Qaeda, its affiliated groups, and local militias were able to establish sanctuaries almost uncontested in the ungoverned spaces of eastern Libya,” the senators said in a statement in May. “Some of these individuals were involved in the attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi.”
Much of the Republican criticism has centered on an alleged cover-up of the facts by the administration, including editing talking points before then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s appearance on “Meet the Press.”
The New York Times article does not address whether there was any cover-up by the administration after the attack.