In a diplomatic cable in June, the U.S. ambassador to Libya cited the rise of “Islamic extremism” and displays of “the Al-Qaeda flag” over buildings outside the city of Benghazi, where he and three other Americans would be killed in a terrorist attack on Sept. 11.
The previously classified cable is among 166 documents made public Friday by Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who says they expose an egregious security shortage at U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya in the months before the attack.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat, criticized the Issa letter as an “undeniably partisan” attempt to politicize the incident before Monday’s presidential debate on foreign policy between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The documents include a June 25 cable in which Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens cited an uptick in attacks in Libya “targeting international organizations and foreign interests.” He noted an attack that month on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, where a homemade bomb ripped a hole in a security wall.
That little-reported attack took place just three months before the military-style assault that killed Stevens. In his cable, he said “an Islamic extremist group, ‘the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman Brigade’” claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The so-called “Blind Sheikh,” Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for plotting to blow up the U.N. headquarters, major bridges and tunnels in New York.
Stevens made no reference of any American attempt to investigate the June attack.
“Libyan security officials purport to have launched investigations,” he wrote, adding that a Libyan security official had “shared his private opinion that the attacks were the work of extremists who are opposed to Western influence in Libya.”
“A number of local contacts agreed, noting that Islamic extremism appears to be on the rise in eastern Libya and that the Al-Qaeda flag has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities” about 100 miles east of Benghazi, Stevens wrote.
He added, however, that other contacts said the June attack also could have been the work of loyalists to ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Other cables cited ongoing concerns about security.
On Sept. 11, just hours before he was killed, Stevens noted that a local Libyan commander in Benghazi had “expressed growing frustration with police and security forces (who were too weak to keep the country secure) …”
Other documents shed light on exchanges between State Department personnel over security.