An ex-Guantanamo detainee once considered a “threat” to America is believed to have been involved in the attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya — possibly orchestrating the deadly rampage, intelligence sources told Fox News.
The potential link with the militant, identified as Sufyan bin Qumu, could lead the White House to revise its claim that administration officials saw “no evidence” that last week’s attack on Sept. 11 was preplanned, and was instead a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamist film produced in the United States.
A senior U.S. counterterrorism official on Wednesday also called the assault a “terrorist attack” — the first time someone in the Obama administration has used that term. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American embassy workers died after the consulate compound was overrun by heavily armed militia and became engulfed in flames, according to reports.
A Fox News report didn't say how bin Qumu, a Libyan, may have been explicitly involved with the attack, although his fighting group — Ansar al-Shariah — is suspected in taking part.
The North Africa branch of Al Qaeda on Tuesday called for further attacks on U.S. diplomats and ratcheting up of protests in response to the movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” which has offended Muslims for mocking the Prophet Muhammed.
Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said on Capitol Hill Wednesday the origin of the assault in Libya could circle back to Al Qaeda.
He branded the assault a “terrorist attack” that so far appeared to have been an “opportunistic” strike that “began and evolved, and escalated over several hours.”
During a Senate committee hearing, Olsen sidestepped a question from Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins about whether there were signs of communication between extremist elements and the local consulate guards. “I think that would be better addressed in the [closed, classified] session that we’re going to have tomorrow,” Olsen said.
U.S. officials said the possibility of such collusion is part of their investigation.
"This was a premeditated, planned attack that was associated with the anniversary of 9/11," Collins said. "I just don’t think that people come to protest equipped with [rocket-propelled grenades] and other heavy weapons. And the reports of complicity — and they are many — with the Libyan guards who were assigned to guard the consulate also suggests to me that this was premeditated."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are to brief lawmakers behind closed doors on Thursday.