Friday, May 24, 2013
By KIMBERLY DOZIER and MATT APUZZO The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The heavily armed extremists who laid siege to the U.S. Consulate in Libya used military-style tactics that may have steered Americans toward a waiting ambush, U.S. officials said Friday as they pieced together details about how the compound was overrun.
Libyan followers of Islamic militias protest a film denigrating the Prophet Muhammad, in Benghazi on Friday. The attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans has sparked a backlash among frustrated Libyans against the militias that run rampant.
The Associated Press
Hundreds of protesters evict extremists from compound
BENGHAZI, Libya - Hundreds of protesters stormed the compound of one of Libya's strongest armed Islamic extremist groups Friday, evicting militiamen and setting fire to their building as the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans sparked a public backlash against armed groups that run rampant in the country and defy the country's new, post-Moammar Gadhafi leadership.
Armed men at the administrative center for the Ansar al-Shariah militia, suspected to have led the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Benghazi consulate, first fired in the air to disperse the crowd, but eventually withdrew from the site with their weapons and vehicles after it was surrounded by waves of protesters shouting "No to militias."
The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Gadhafi's regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya's revolution, providing security where police cannot.
But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings. Militias made up of Islamic radicals are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don't abide by their hardline ideology.
Ignoring pleas for peace, thousands rampage in cities
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's "Day of Love for the Prophet" turned into a deadly day of gunfire, tear gas and arson.
Thousands angered by an anti-Muslim film ignored pleas for peaceful rallies and rampaged in several Pakistani cities Friday in battles with police that killed 19 people and touched off criticism of a government decision to declare a national holiday to proclaim devotion for the Prophet Muhammad.
The film, which was produced in the United States and denigrates the prophet, has outraged many in the Muslim world in the 10 days since it attracted attention on the Internet, and there were new, mostly peaceful protest marches in a half-dozen countries from Asia to the Middle East.
But it is Pakistan that has seen the most sustained violence, driven by a deep well of anti-American sentiment and a strong cadre of hard-line Islamists who benefit from stoking anger at the U.S.
At least 49 people -- including the U.S. ambassador to Libya -- have died in violence linked to the film around the world.
-- From news service reports
U.S. intelligence indicates that 50 or more people, many of them masked, were responsible for the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Gun trucks provided added firepower. The attackers set up a perimeter, controlling access in and out of the compound. A first wave of attacks sent the Americans fleeing to a fallback building, where a second group of extremists beset them with precise mortar fire.
Intelligence reports were still coming in, but officials told The Associated Press that what may have initially seemed like a protest over an anti-Islam movie that had spun out of control now showed the hallmarks of a more sophisticated operation.
In a country coming off a civil war, a level of battlefield savvy does not prove the attack on the compound was planned well in advance. How much planning went into the operation and whether it could have been detected or prevented remain unanswered questions, officials said.
The attacks killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, who U.S. officials said were security officers guarding diplomatic officials. Stevens was visiting Benghazi from Tripoli to preside over the opening of an "American Space" cultural center.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss intelligence reports. They stressed that even now authorities do not have a clear understanding of exactly what happened in Benghazi. FBI agents from New York and Washington were in Libya investigating the attack.
"What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday. "And we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans."
Officials have not singled out one responsible group, but have focused their attention on Ansar al-Shariah, a Libyan militant group led by a former detainee at the U.S. military-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Since the civil war that ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year, the country has been awash with rebels, militias and terrorists. Weaponry is easy to come by, both from the former regime, from weapons depots looted during the war, and from foreign powers that armed the rebellion. The origin of the weapons used in the assault on the U.S. compound was unclear, officials said.
Whether the attack was premeditated carries both political and intelligence significance.
From an intelligence standpoint, the longer an operation was in the works ahead of the attack, the more the U.S. government will face scrutiny for not anticipating and preparing for it.
Politically, Republicans have accused President Obama's administration of misreading the assault as an outgrowth of Middle East demonstrations over an American-made Internet video insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. They have also criticized the protection of the consulate, particularly since the attack fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a date when authorities are normally on alert for attacks.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has said there was no evidence the attack was premeditated. Obama has said extremists used the protests as an excuse to attack.
A spontaneous protest that turns violent is harder to predict and respond to.
"The intelligence agencies are still not confident enough to represent to us whether it was planned in advance or taking the opportunity of a spontaneous protest," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Friday.
Investigators say some of the people involved have a "hodgepodge of affiliations with multiple militant groups," making it hard to hold one particular militia or movement responsible, said a senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to be quoted publicly.
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