(CNSNews.com) - A congressional report released Tuesday on the terrorist attack on the U.S. State Department compound in Benghazi, Libya says there is “ample evidence that the attack was planned and intentional” and that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia joined in carrying it out.
The report also notes that al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia took credit for the attack while it was still unfolding, and that the State Department reported this at the time to other government agencies, including the White House.
“The volatile security environment erupted on September 11, 2012, when militias composed of al Qaeda-affiliated extremists attacked U.S. interests in Benghazi,” says the report.
“The U.S. government immediately had information that the attacks were conducted by al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, yet Administration officials downplayed those connections, and focused on the idea that provocation for violence resulted from a YouTube video,” says the report that was produced by the Republican staffs of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee.
“The attackers were members of extremist groups, including the Libya-based Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) and al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)," says the report.
The report includes a timeline of the attack, which began at 9:42 p.m. Benghazi time or 3:42 p.m. Washington, D.C. time. The timeline says attackers from unspecified “other groups” also joined with members of Ansar al-Sharia and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb in conducting the attack.
“The attack begins at the TMF [State Department Temporary Mission Facility] in Benghazi,” the timeline starts. “Dozens of lightly armed men approached the TMF, quickly and deliberately breached the front gate, and set fire to the guard house and main diplomatic building. The attackers included members of Libya-based Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) and al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), among other groups.”
The report says the State Department quickly notified the White House that the attack was taking place in Benghazi, and that within two hours of the start of the attack the department was telling the White House that al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia was claiming responsibility for it.
“In an 'Ops Alert' issued shortly after the attack began, the State Department Operations Center notified senior Department officials, the White House Situation Room, and others, that the Benghazi compound was under attack and that 'approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well,’” said the report.
“Two hours later, the Operations Center issued an alert that al-Qa’ida linked Ansar al-Sharia (AAS) claimed responsibility for the attack and had called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli,” said the report. “Neither alert mentioned that there had been a protest at the location of the attacks. Further, Administration documents provided to the Committees show that there was ample evidence that the attack was planned and intentional. The coordinated, complex, and deadly attack on the [CIA’s] Annex [down the road from the State Department mission]--that included sophisticated weapons--is perhaps the strongest evidence that the attacks were not spontaneous. “
“The U.S. government knew immediately that the attacks constituted an act of terror,” says the report.
The report says that the Obama administration purged references to al Qaeda from the talking points that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice used when she appeared on Sept. 16 on five Sunday talks shows to discuss the Benghazi attacks.
“After the attacks, the Administration perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the violence grew out of a demonstration caused by a YouTube video,” says the report. "The Administration consciously decided not to discuss extremist involvement or previous attacks against Western interests in Benghazi."
“To protect the State Department, the Administration deliberately removed references to al Qaeda-linked groups and previous attacks in Benghazi in the talking points used by Ambassador Rice, thereby perpetuating the deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a demonstration caused by a YouTube video,” says the report.
The reports criticizes the administration for responding to the attack as a criminal event requiring an FBI investigation rather than as an act of terrorism against the United States requiring a military response.
“It was only after the September 11, 2001 attacks, when the United States responded to terrorism with military force, that the government successfully brought some of the perpetrators of those attacks and the previous attacks to justice,” the report concludes. “Terrorists who successfully attack U.S. interests are not deterred by criminal investigations.”