Debate rages over disputed al Qaeda link to Benghazi attack

The Obama administration has denied that the attack on the US mission in Benghazi, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was planned or led by Al Qaeda, a stance that is backed-up by the New York Times.

According to the December 28 report, after "months of investigation" the paper said it "turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault."  The Times concluded that the attack was led, in part, by a local militia commander, Ahmed Abu Khattala.

Khattala, the Times said, has anti-American views but "no known affiliations with terrorist groups" including Al Qaeda. The Times also said that "contrary to claims by some members of Congress, the attack was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."

This stance is consistent with what Susan Rice, then the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said on CBS Face the Nation soon after the attack. 

 “It began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video,” Rice said to Face The Nation.

Mike Rogers, the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has led an extensive investigation of the Benghazi attack.

“I think it’s just absolutely inaccurate,” Rogers said. “We found absolutely no evidence that that video was involved in this whatsoever. As a matter of fact, most of the information about the video didn’t even start surfacing in social media we found until after the event had happened.”

Mike Rogers, the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, disputes conclusions that there was no al Qaeda connection with the Benghazi attacks
 Rogers does agree that militia leader Khattala was involved.

“We do think that he had a role if not a leading role in the event, but to say that there was no Al Qaeda affiliate organizing, helping and participating would be completely inaccurate,” Rogers said.

Last summer, federal prosecutors charged Khattala in connection with the attacks. but Libya has refused to hand him over. In an interview with CBS News last year, Khatalla denied having anything to do with the attack.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.