By William Tucker
Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was killed yesterday, along with three others, during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Initial reports suggested that the attack was related to the protests that took place in Egypt over a film portraying the Muslim prophet Muhammad in a poor light; however eyewitness reports state that the attackers did not come from the group of protesters outside the consulate. Rather, the attacking force arrived separately and used the protesters as cover. Reports from Washington have stated that intelligence indicates that the attack was planned in advance and some have speculated that it was retaliation for the recent death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, an important al-Qaeda figure, in a U.S. drone strike. Furthermore, the outer security ring was staffed by local contract security guards who, according to one of the now deceased Americans, may have had a hand in directing the attack. It should be noted that the consulate was housed in a temporary building and wasn’t as secure as most U.S. diplomatic institutions. In other words, the Benghazi consulate was a prime candidate for an attack.
The perpetrator of the attack remains unclear at this point with CBS News reporting that Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility, while the New York Times is reporting that the same group has denied taking any action. Ansar al-Sharia is a political front for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and has connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Media reports have stated that Benghazi has recently become a hot bed of militant activity; however the city has been home to al-Qaeda and likeminded jihadists since before the revolt against Gaddafi’s rule began. Ansar al-Sharia is just one group in this city. That being said, the existence of any planned attack would have likely been known to Ansar al-Sharia. That is, if they were not directly responsible. While the perpetrators of the attack may remain a mystery for the time being the bigger problem is that militancy remains entrenched in Libya and the new government lacks the capability to do anything about it.