PARIS The head of the U.S. military's Africa Command said Wednesday that some of those who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya were linked to al Qaeda's North Africa arm.
Gen. Carter Ham told reporters in Paris on Wednesday, "clearly some of these individuals have some linkages" to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.
However he said the attack was not necessarily "an AQIM-planned or organized or led activity."
The general's remarks do not represent a significant divergence from what has been reported about the suspected perpetrators of the Benghazi attack. Many of the Islamic extremist militias operating in eastern Libya are known to have links to AQIM.
While there has still been no suggestion that AQIM played a direct role in planning the attack, there have been fears that al Qaeda's North Africa franchise has gained influence in Libya amid the security chaos across the country left in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising which ousted long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Ham had expressed concerns previously that AQIM - thought to be al Qaeda's best-funded branch due to its heavy reliance on kidnap and extortion plots - may be working in greater coordination with other Islamic extremist groups across the region, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Shaabab in Somalia.
U.S. Ambassador in Libya Chris Stevens and three others were killed in the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi. Investigations are under way into what happened, and lawmakers were being briefed on Capitol Hill this week by top State Department officials behind closed doors.
Ham also discussed African and international efforts toward a possible military intervention in northern Mali, which is controlled by AQIM and other extremists.