2012 Benghazi attack

2012 Benghazi attack
Part of the inter-civil war violence in Libya
2012 Benghazi attack photo montage.jpg
From top to bottom, and left to right: President, Vice President updated on situation night of September 11, 2012; President Obama, with Secretary Clinton, delivering statement in the Rose Garden, September 12, 2012; two photographs released through a FOIA request; Secretary Clinton testifying before the Senate Committee on January 23, 2013; portion of "wanted" poster seeking information on the attacks in Benghazi.
LocationBenghazi, Libya
DateSeptember 11–12, 2012
21:40 – 04:15 EET (UTC+02:00)
TargetUnited States diplomatic post and CIA annex
Attack type
Coordinated attack, armed assault, arson
WeaponsRocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, assault rifles, 14.5 mm anti-aircraft machine guns, truck mounted artillery, diesel canisters, mortars
DeathsUS Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens; USFS officer Sean Smith; CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty; unknown number of Libyan attackers[clarification needed]
Injuries
4 Americans, 7 Libyans
PerpetratorsAnsar al-Sharia

The 2012 Benghazi attack was a coordinated attack against two United States government facilities in Benghazi, Libya by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

At 9:40 p.m., September 11, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi resulting in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith.[1][2] Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.[3] At around 4:00 a.m. on September 12, the group launched a mortar attack against a CIA annex approximately one-mile (1.6 km) away, killing CIA contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty[2][4][5] and wounding ten others. Initial analysis by the CIA, repeated by top government officials, indicated that the attack spontaneously arose from a protest.[6] Subsequent investigations showed that the attack was premeditated – although rioters and looters not originally part of the group may have joined in after the attacks began.[7][8][9]

There is no definitive evidence that al-Qaeda or any other international terrorist organization participated in the Benghazi attack.[10][11][12] The United States immediately increased security worldwide at diplomatic and military facilities and began investigating the Benghazi attack.[13][14] Many Libyans condemned the attacks. They staged public demonstrations condemning Ansar al-Sharia, which had been formed during the 2011 Libyan civil war in opposition to leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.[15][16][17]

Despite persistent accusations against President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice, ten investigations — six by Republican-controlled congressional committees — did not find that they or any other high-ranking Obama administration officials had acted improperly.[18][19][20][21] Four career State Department officials were criticized for denying requests for additional security at the facility prior to the attack. Eric J. Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, resigned under pressure, while three others were suspended.[22] In her role as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton subsequently took responsibility for the security lapses.[23]

On August 6, 2013, it was reported that the U.S. had filed criminal charges against several individuals alleged to have been involved in the attacks, including militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala.[24] Khattala has been described by Libyan and U.S. officials as the Benghazi leader of Ansar al-Sharia. The U.S. Department of State designated Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist organization in January 2014.[25][26][27] Khattala was captured in Libya by U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, who were acting in coordination with the FBI, in June 2014.[28] Another suspect, Mustafa al-Imam, was captured in October 2017.[29]

Background

American presence in Libya and Benghazi

Within months of the start of the Libyan revolution in February 2011, the CIA began building a covert presence in Benghazi.[30] During the war, elite counterterrorist operators from U.S. Delta Force were deployed to Libya as analysts, instructing the rebels on specifics about weapons and tactics.[31]:16 Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was named the first liaison with the Libyan opposition in March 2011.[32] After the end of the war, both the CIA and the U.S. State Department were tasked with continuing to identify and collect arms that had flooded the country during the war, particularly shoulder-fired missiles taken from the arsenal of the Gaddafi regime,[33][34] as well as securing Libyan chemical weapons stockpiles, and helping to train Libya's new intelligence service.[30]

Eastern Libya and Benghazi were key intelligence-gathering hubs for intelligence operatives. Before the attack, the CIA was monitoring Ansar al-Sharia and suspected members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as attempting to define the leadership and loyalty of the various militias present and their interaction with the Salafi elements of Libyan society.[30] By the time of the attack, dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi.[35] In addition, it has been reported that in the summer of 2012, American Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) missions had begun to target Libyan militias linked to the Al-Qaeda network of Yasin al-Suri.[31]:58 By the time of the attack, a composite U.S. Special Operations team with two JSOC members was already in Libya working on their mission profile independently of the CIA and State Department operations.[31]:58[36]

Multiple anonymous sources reported that the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was used by the CIA as a cover to smuggle weapons from Libya to anti-Assad rebels in Syria.[31]:56[35][37][38][39] Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cites an anonymous former senior Defense Department intelligence official, saying "The consulate's only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms. It had no real political role." The attack allegedly brought an end to the purported U.S. involvement, but did not stop the smuggling according to Hersh's source.[40] In January 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence cast doubt on this alleged U.S. involvement and reported that "All CIA activities in Benghazi were legal and authorized. On-the-record testimony establishes that the CIA was not sending weapons ... from Libya to Syria, or facilitating other organizations or states that were transferring weapons from Libya to Syria."[41]

During Congressional hearings, Ambassador Stevens' top deputy in Libya, Gregory N. Hicks, testified that Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi in 2012 because "Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton wanted the post made permanent", and it was understood that the secretary hoped to make an announcement to that effect during a visit to Tripoli later in the year.[42][43][44][45][46] He also stated that "Chris [Stevens] wanted to make a symbolic gesture to the people of Benghazi that the United States stood behind their dream of establishing a new democracy."[47][48]

Instability in Benghazi

In April 2012, two former security guards for the consulate threw an IED over the consulate fence; the incident did not cause any casualties.[49] Just four days later, a similar bomb was thrown at a four-vehicle convoy carrying the United Nations Special Envoy to Libya, exploding twelve feet (3.7 m) from the UN envoy's vehicle without injuring anyone.[50]

In May 2012, an Al-Qaida affiliate calling itself the "Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman" claimed responsibility for an attack on the International Red Cross (ICRC) office in Benghazi. On August 6, the ICRC suspended operations in Benghazi. The head of the ICRC's delegation in Libya said the aid group was "appalled" by the attack and "extremely concerned" about escalating violence in Libya.[51]

The Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman released a video of what it said was its detonation of an explosive device outside the gates of the U.S. consulate on June 6, which caused no casualties but blew a hole in the consulate's perimeter wall,[52][53] described by one individual as "big enough for forty men to go through".[54] The Brigades claimed that the attack was in response to the killing of Abu Yahya al Libi, a Libyan al-Qaeda leader who had just died in an American drone attack, and was also timed to coincide with the imminent arrival of a U.S. diplomat.[55][56] There were no injuries, but the group left behind leaflets promising more attacks against the U.S.[57]

British ambassador to Libya Dominic Asquith survived an assassination attempt in Benghazi on June 10. Two British protection officers were injured in the attack when their convoy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade 300 yards (270 m) from their consulate office.[58] The British Foreign Office withdrew all consular staff from Benghazi in late June.[59][60][61]

On June 18, 2012, the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi was attacked by individuals affiliated with Ansar al-Sharia, allegedly because of "attacks by Tunisian artists against Islam".[31]:31

On the day of the attack, two consulate security guards spotted a man in a Libyan police uniform taking pictures of the consulate with his cell phone from a nearby building that was under construction. The security guards briefly detained the man before releasing him. He drove away in a police car and a complaint was made to the Libyan police station. Sean Smith noticed this surveillance, and messaged a friend online around noon, "Assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures."[31]:34

According to a local security official, he and a battalion commander had met with U.S. diplomats three days before the attack and warned the Americans about deteriorating security in the area. The official told CNN that he advised the diplomats, "The situation is frightening; it scares us."[62]

Ambassador Stevens' diary, which was later found at the compound, recorded his concern about the growing al-Qaeda presence in the area and his worry about being on an al-Qaeda hit list.[63]

U.S. security officer Eric Nordstrom twice requested additional security for the mission in Benghazi from the State Department. His requests were denied and according to Nordstrom, State Department official Charlene Lamb wanted to keep the security presence in Benghazi "artificially low".[64]

On December 30, 2012, the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a report, "Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi", wherein it was determined:

In the months [between February 2011 and September 11, 2012] leading up to the attack on the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi, there was a large amount of evidence gathered by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and from open sources that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous and unstable, and that a significant attack against American personnel there was becoming much more likely. While this intelligence was effectively shared within the Intelligence Community (IC) and with key officials at the Department of State, it did not lead to a commensurate increase in security at Benghazi nor to a decision to close the American mission there, either of which would have been more than justified by the intelligence presented. ... The RSO [Regional Security Officer] in Libya compiled a list of 234 security incidents in Libya between June 2011 and July 2012, 50 of which took place in Benghazi.[65]

The desire of the State Department to maintain a low profile in Benghazi has been cited as the reason why the State Department circumvented their own Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB) standards for diplomatic security.[66]:74–75 In the aftermath, Clinton sought to take responsibility for the security lapses at Benghazi and expressed personal regret.[67] In her January 2013 testimony before Congress, Secretary Clinton claimed security decisions at the Benghazi compound had been made by others, stating, "The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi ... were handled by the security professionals in the [State] Department. I didn't see those requests, I didn't approve them, I didn't deny them."[68]

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