The White House was informed that Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the Benghazi attack just two hours after it happened, according to emails obtained by Reuters. Yet the Obama administration maintained it was a spontaneous reaction to the Muhammad video, and downplayed the role of any militant groups for two weeks after the attack. As of today, the administration has never even told us Ansar al-Sharia claimed credit. We had to find out from the investigative press:
A third email, also marked SBU and sent at 6:07 p.m. Washington time, carried the subject line: “Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack.”
The message reported: “Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli.”
While some information identifying recipients of this message was redacted from copies of the messages obtained by Reuters, a government source said that one of the addresses to which the message was sent was the White House Situation Room, the president’s secure command post.
Other addressees included intelligence and military units as well as one used by the FBI command center, the source said.
Even as the administration kept these details from the public, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the “spontaneous protest” narrative was based on “our initial information, and that includes all information”:
I’m saying that based on information that we — our initial information, and that includes all information — we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence — not supposition — concrete evidence that we have thus far.
Jim Geraghty has a great timeline of UN ambassador Susan Rice’s now-discredited claims as well.
As I’ve written before, Ansar al-Sharia is suspected of close ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The Library of Congress issued a report just this summer that heavily indicated Ansar al-Sharia was Libya’s al-Qaeda affiliate:
Ansar al-Sharia, led by Sufian Ben Qhumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, has increasingly embodied al-Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States.
The name Ansar al-Sharia is also being used by al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in so-called liberated areas of Yemen and by Salafist groups in Tunisia. The Facebook sites of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and the group in Tunisia appear similar in design and content and also share contacts, suggesting coordination between the groups.
No wonder the White House didn’t want to acknowledge Ansar al-Sharia took credit. A successful attack by an AQ-linked group on the 9/11 anniversary two months before the election is politically disastrous for the White House; but perhaps not as disastrous as the bombshell that they kept this information from the public at the time.