A senior counterterrorism official told senators Wednesday that last week’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, was definitely a terrorist attack.
“Yes, they were killed in a terrorist attack on our embassy,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Olsen stressed, however, that intelligence does not suggest the attack was pre-planned to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“The best information we have now, the facts that we have now, indicates an opportunistic attack on our embassy,” Olsen said.
“The attack began and evolved and escalated. It appears that individuals who were certainly well-armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded,” he said.
“What we don’t have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack. We’re still looking for any indications of substantial advanced planning. We just haven’t seen that at this point.”
"We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda's affiliates, in particular, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," Olsen added.
Last week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice told ABC news that the initial protest in Benghazi was spontaneous but that it was "hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons."
Republican lawmakers, however, have maintained that the attack was a premeditated terrorist plot that took advantage of the protest.
“This was a premeditated planned attack that was associated with the anniversary of 9/11,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “I just don’t think that people come to protest equipped with [rocket propelled grenade’s] 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.”