By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration, roiled by the first killing of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, is investigating whether the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a planned terrorist strike to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and not a spontaneous mob enraged over an anti-Islam YouTube video.
President Barack Obama declared in a White House appearance that the U.S. would "work with the Libyan government to bring to justice" those who killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Intelligence officers said the attack on the Benghazi consulate was "too coordinated or professional to be spontaneous," according to a U.S. counterterrorism official. The attack on the Benghazi consulate was "a planned, coordinated, well-executed military style event," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident publicly.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was too early to judge whether the attack was planned.
"I know that this is being investigated, and we're working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. I would not want to speculate on that at this time," he said. Several Libyan security guards also were killed.
Rogers, R-Mich., said US intelligence had not yet determined who was responsible, but added, "Our list is narrowing."
"When you see (such an attack), it wasn't some folks who had some guns in their garage and said let's shoot up the consulate," Rogers said in an interview Wednesday.
The FBI was sending evidence teams to Libya, said a law enforcement official.
Analysts are working on several different scenarios based on intelligence that could lead to a motive for the attack. Some concern the possibility of targeting high-ranking officials, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. But none of the intelligence has suggested terrorists would specifically target Stevens, said the official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
The attack in Libya, which came hours after a mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag, was presumed to have been triggered by a movie, whose trailer has gone viral on YouTube, depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in disrespectful ways. In an extraordinary move, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called anti-Islamic preacher Terry Jones and asked him to stop promoting the film. A spokeswoman said the church would not show the film Wednesday evening.
"Make no mistake. Justice will be done," a somber Obama pledged at the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at his side.
He ordered increased security at U.S. diplomatic missions overseas, particularly in Libya, and said he condemned "in the strongest possible terms the outrageous and shocking" attack. Clinton said she was particularly appalled that the attack took place in Benghazi, which the U.S. had helped liberate from dictator Moammar Gadhafi during the Arab Spring revolution in Libya last year.
Three Americans were wounded, U.S. officials said.
The aftermath of the two attacks also stirred the U.S. presidential campaign, where until Wednesday, foreign policy had taken a back seat to the struggling economy.
The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, criticized the administration for statements issued before and after the Cairo attacks that expressed sympathy for those insulted by the video. But he in turn was criticized for turning a tragedy too quickly into political fodder, and getting key details wrong.
"I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions," Romney told a morning news conference. "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
Obama told CBS' "Minutes" that Romney "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
Obama and Clinton made a rare joint visit to the State Department, where grieving colleagues of Stevens and the other three Americans killed in Benghazi gathered in a courtyard. The president also ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at government and military buildings and vessels around the world until sunset on Sept. 16. Flags had already been lowered in many places to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks.