The State Department fears that terrorists are moving to exploit the wave of anti-American anger sweeping the Muslim world after a group linked to al Qaeda called for more attacks on U.S. diplomats and a suicide bomber killed 12 foreign workers in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Al Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb circulated a statement in North Africa threatening new attacks in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania condemning the United States for lying to Muslims by claiming its war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.
“We encourage all Muslims to continue to demonstrate and escalate their protests” and to “kill their [American] ambassadors and representatives or to expel them to cleanse our land from their wickedness,” the group said, according to a CNN translation of the statement.
Details surrounding the Benghazi attack remain murky and are at the center of a politically charged debate now coursing through Washington over the extent to which any of the recent violence has been part of a premeditated terrorist plot or purely driven by anger toward the “Innocence of Muslims” film that denigrates Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The Obama administration held firm Tuesday to hopes that the protests are spontaneous as new signs emerged that such fury appears only to be spreading.
Were diplomats warned?
U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, flatly dismissed a recent report by the Independent, a British newspaper. It had cited unnamed “senior diplomatic sources” as claiming that the State Department had received credible information 48 hours prior to the attacks in Egypt and Libya that American missions may be targeted but that no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert.
“The [Independent] report is absolutely false,” Shawn Turner, head of communications for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told The Washington Times. “We are not aware of any actionable intelligence that would have forecast the attack on the U.S. post in Benghazi.”
A senior U.S. official, however, told The Times that before the attacks took place, “There was a cable from the intelligence community that called attention to a video on the Internet that disparaged Islam.”
The official called the cable “routine” and that it was sent out to diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo but not to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
“It was not a warning,” the official said. “We send tons of these things out all the time.”
“The intelligence community regularly sends info out to posts and embassies calling attention to anything they think the post should be aware of,” added the official, who asked for anonymity given the subject’s sensitive nature.
Officials have stopped short of explaining whether the intelligence cable prompted U.S. diplomats to post a now infamous statement last week on the website of the Cairo embassy condemning “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”