Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen told lawmakers Wednesday that the assault on the U.S. diplomatic post in the Libyan city of Benghazi was likely a terrorist attack that was “opportunistic” in nature that “began and evolved and escalated over several hours.”
“It appears that individuals, who were certainly well armed, seized on the opportunity presented, as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning hours of September 12,” Olsen said during a hearing the Senate Committee on Homeland Security alongside Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins.
The level of premeditation that went into the attack has been in dispute. Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif has claimed that the country had learned of the attack 48 hours in advance and had warned American officials while U.S. Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice told ABC that the attack appeared spontaneous.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Chairman of the Senate Committee, questioned Olsen on the identity of the terrorists.
“This is the most important question that we are considering. We are focused on who was responsible for this attack,” Olsen responded. “A number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area.”
Olsen went on to say that individuals may have had connections to Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb.
Perkins noted that the Benghazi attack is an open investigation with a “significant number of FBI agents, analysts and various support employees assigned to this matter.”
“We are conducting interviews, gathering evidence, and trying to sort out the facts, working with our partners both from a criminal standpoint as well as in the intelligence community to try to determine exactly what took place on the ground that evening,” Perkins said.
Regarding concern of a similar attack on U.S. soil, Napolitano responded that there were no credible threats of homegrown terrorist attacks to the U.S. linked to the Libya attack, only planned demonstrations in Los Angeles and Houston that were a result of the anti-Islamic film, “Innocence of Muslims.”