(NEW YORK) — National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen became the highest-ranking member of the Obama administration to claim that last week’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was an act of terrorism.
However, Olsen told a Senate hearing Wednesday that he doesn’t believe that the militant strike that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was pre-planned, which is in step with what other administration officials have said.
The White House has been at odds with the Libyan government over the circumstances surrounding the assault. Libya’s president said that it was a scheme that had been in the works for weeks and involved al Qaeda and foreign sympathizers.
While acknowledging that some of the attackers might have been part of local extremist groups and affiliates of al-Qaeda, Olsen told lawmakers that “individuals who were certainly well armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning of September 12.”
The counterterrorism chief was referring to the siege at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that was spurred by an anti-Islam movie produced in the U.S. that demeans the Prophet Mohammed.
Among the senators on the Homeland Security panel that disagreed with Olsen’s assessment was Maine Republican Susan Collins who said, “I just don’t think that people come to protests equipped with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and other heavy weapons.”
Collins also expressed anger that the consulate wasn’t better protected, given that the strike began on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
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