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'Core' of al-Qaida not behind Benghazi attack: United States

WASHINGTON--The United States is still investigating last year's attack on its diplomatic mission in Benghazi but has no evidence that “core al-Qaida” leaders directed the assault in which four Americans died, a U.S. official said Monday.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, however, that some of the militants who carried out the deadly operation on Sept. 11, 2012 may “have taken inspiration from al-Qaida ideology.”

She was speaking after the New York Times published a lengthy investigation that found no evidence that the al-Qaida network had direct involvement in the attack, in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Militants stormed the mission in Benghazi, eastern Libya, before later attacking a nearby CIA annex. Local leaders interviewed by the Times report blamed local fighters for the assault, which roiled the 2012 U.S. presidential elections.

Republicans have repeatedly accused Democratic President Barack Obama's of trying to cover-up the real events of attack, after then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the assault was the result of a “spontaneous” protest against an inflammatory anti-Islamic video.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Harf said, adding it was in the hands of the FBI.

“But at this point, we have no indications that core al-Qaida — which I think is what most people are referring to when they talk about al-Qaida — directed or planned what happened in Benghazi.”

“These were clearly terrorists,” Harf said, but she stressed it was important to make the distinction between al-Qaida and other local militias or terrorist groups.

“These folks don't carry ID cards,” she said, adding: “They don't come out and wear a T-shirt that says I belong to al-Qaida, right?

“We know some of them may have taken inspiration from al-Qaida ideology certainly. That's what the investigation's looking into right now, who did this? What were these groups? Who were these people following? Who directed and planned it?”

The Times also found that anger at the video, entitled “Innocence of Muslims” which had already sparked demonstrations in other Arab nations, “motivated the initial attack.”

Investigators were looking into “exactly what role” the video had played in Benghazi, Harf said.

“This was a very complicated situation. There were a number of folks involved in this attack, some of which ... were there for different reasons,” she said.

But she added: “The video was clearly being used by extremists as some sort of rallying cry against the United States.”

The Benghazi attack has colored the U.S. political scene in the months since, with Republicans seeking every opportunity to slam the Obama administration for being lax on security.

“We have seen no evidence that the video was widely seen in Benghazi, a very isolated area, or that it was the leading cause,” Republican lawmaker Darrell Issa said on Sunday.

And he insisted on NBC's Meet the Press that “al-Qaida is not decimated, and there was a group there that was involved that is linked to al-Qaida.”

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