September 13, 2012

Rioters stormed the U.S. embassy in Yemen on Thursday morning, breaching the wall of the embassy and setting fire to vehicles as security forces reportedly opened fire. Security forces managed to gain control of the compound in Sanaa by using the live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons, injuring several people, although protests continued outside the embassy walls. Protests have broken out throughout the Muslim world over an amateur U.S. film that depicts the prophet Muhammed as a fraud. In Cairo, protests continued for the third day on Thursday outside the U.S. embassy, with at least 10 people injured in overnight clashes. In Libya, the U.S. ambassador and three others were killed on Tuesday by riots over the film outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

U.S. officials say that it is "too early" to say who carried out the fatal attack in Benghazi, but members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees believe that it may well have been the work of al-Qaeda:

The attack in Libya that also killed three other U.S. personnel bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda and may have been carried out by the group’s North Africa affiliate to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., said Michigan Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee.

“It certainly appears to me the significance of this date was important,” Rogers told CNN yesterday. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who heads the Senate intelligence panel, also told the network the attack may have been premeditated.

It may have been the work of al-Qaeda because “the weapons were somewhat sophisticated, and they blew a hole in the building and started a big fire, and that’s how the ambassador died, in a fire,” Feinstein said.

There is also a possibility that the attack was "planned," and that the protest was either a ruse, or the attackers took advantage of the protest as a distraction from their activities :

The chaotic scene was described by senior Obama administration officials, Libyan government officials and witnesses. Details about the attack were still emerging late Wednesday. Key facts remain unclear, particularly how Stevens died and how his body wound up at a Benghazi hospital.

Even as evidence was being assembled, the early indications were that the assault had been planned and the attackers had cannily taken advantage of the protest at the consulate.

“Was this a spontaneous act of violence, was this capitalizing on the opportunity posed by [a protest], or was this separate and apart from al-Qaeda?” asked Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence committee. “Any of those are possible,” Schiff said, but accounts of the attack and the firepower employed “indicate something more than a spontaneous protest.”

In response, the Pentagon has ordered two warships to the Libyan coast which carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, although they have no specific mission at this time.

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