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House GOP stand by al-Qaida link to Benghazi attack

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans defended their claims that al-Qaida was involved in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, disputing a New York Times report saying it was fueled instead by an American-made video denigrating Islam.

The New York Times said its investigation, published on Sunday and based on interviews in Benghazi with people with direct knowledge of the attack, “turned up no evidence that al-Qaida or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.”

“There was some level of pre-planning, we know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaida and their affiliates in Libya. We know that,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

One point of contention is whether an Islamic group involved in the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, has ties to al-Qaida. The Times described Ansar al-Sharia as an independent militia and a “purely local extremist organization.”

Rogers said his intelligence disputes that.

“Did they have differences of opinion with al-Qaida core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al-Qaida core? Definitely,” he said.

Rogers said his assessment is based on more than 4,000 diplomatic cables reviewed by the Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation.

One congressional Democrat who serves on that committee backed him up.

“I agree with Mike that however the intelligence indicates, that al-Qaida was involved. But there were also plenty of people and militias that were unaffiliated with al-Qaida that were involved,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Schiff said the Times account “adds some insights” but doesn't tell a complete story.

“I think the intelligence paints a portrait that some came to murder, some people came to destroy property, some merely came to loot and some came in part motivated by those videos. So it is a complex picture,” he said.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the Times account doesn't exonerate the Obama administration for security lapses at the consulate before and during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.

“What I have claimed — and rightfully so — is that (Ambassador) Christopher Stevens and others alerted well in advance that they had a security threat,” Issa said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “So we had warnings beforehand, and instead of increasing security, we reduced security.

“The fact is, people from this administration, under oath, said there was no evidence of any response to a video and, in fact, this was a planned attack that came quickly.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, also appearing on “Meet the Press,” called Issa's account a Republican “fairy tale.”

“Chairman Issa and members of that committee crusaded for over a year on what was really a fairy tale, claiming that the administration knew that al-Qaida was involved and wouldn't admit it,” Castro explained. “Some of the information that came out early, although it may have been wrong, that was their best effort.

“Darrell Issa and others took that and crusaded against the administration in a way that, I think, has been a big distraction for the American people,” he added.

Appearing on CBS' “Face the Nation,” Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency and the CIA, said the Times' report “has the ring of truth to it.”

“These kinds of events are a lot more nuanced than we would like them to be, looking back at them in retrospect. When the attack happened — actually on this network a few days afterward — I was asked who did it. And I said, ‘Well, you know, the al-Qaida movement divided into three layers: al-Qaida prime, formerly affiliated and like minded.' And at the time, I said this was probably high-end, like minded or low-end affiliated. And I think the Times story today kind of bears that out,” he said.

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