- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UNITED NATIONS — The Obama administration said Wednesday it now thinks the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya was linked to an affiliate of al Qaeda — an evaluation that comes two weeks after the strike and as the White House has struggled to defend its initial read on the situation.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at the U.N., said the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post was part of a broader effort by “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups,” who she said are “working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”

“We’re working with the Libyan government and other partners to find those responsible for the attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi and bring them to justice,” she said at a special meeting about security in the Sahel region in Africa.

President Obama himself has yet to call the attack “terrorism,” though others in the White House have done so.

Previously, officials had only said they were looking into potential links with al Qaeda, but Mrs. Clinton’s statement Wednesday appears to confirm those ties — something both Democrats and Republicans in Congress had predicted from the beginning.

Indeed, the White House has been on the defensive over its handling of the Benghazi attack on a diplomatic post that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans as well as the mob assaults on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen over an Internet video critical of Islam.

American outposts throughout the Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia, have been targeted by demonstrations since a video trailer appeared on YouTube touting “Innocence of Muslims.” Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and local authorities.

Mr. Obama came under fire from abroad Wednesday for not suppressing the amateurish video.

Hafiz Saeed, a prominent Pakistani firebrand, told Reuters news service Mr. Obama should have ordered the video — which refers to Muhammad, Islam’s prophet, as a pedophile, womanizer and murderer — be removed from the Internet instead of defending America’s freedom of expression, as he did in his U.N. speech.

“Obama’s statements have caused a religious war,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Top Republicans said Mrs. Clinton’s admission of al Qaeda links came so late that it raised serious questions about Mr. Obama’s ability to lead the war on terrorism.

“It is not too much to ask why the president and his administration have taken so long to state what has appeared obvious for a long time about what really happened in Benghazi,” Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a joint statement. “This is just one more example of this president’s failure to lead in the Middle East and how that failure has threatened America’s national security interests.”

Libya’s leaders have also blamed al Qaeda-linked groups for the attack in Benghazi, which came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In the days immediately following the attack, Benghazi residents told The Washington Times that the protest outside the U.S. Consulate against the then little-known anti-Islam film was initially a peaceful one, but the protesters were quickly joined by armed men carrying rocket-propelled grenades. These accounts added credence to the theory that the attack was planned by a sophisticated terrorist group.

The protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world appear to have been spurred by the “Innocence of Muslims” video, but Libyan President Mohammed el-Megaref told NBC News on Wednesday that film had “nothing to do with” the attack in his country. That contradicts Mr. Obama’s statements to the U.N. a day earlier.

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