The protest in Libya that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans appears to have begun spontaneously and was “hijacked” by extremists, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice said.
Intelligence so far shows the protest began as “a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response” to demonstrations in Cairo over a “very offensive video” criticizing Islam, Rice said today on ABC’s “This Week” program. “As that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons.”
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” she said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premediated or preplanned.”
Even so, Mohammed Yussef Magariaf, president of Libya’s General National Congress, said on the CBS program he believes the attack was “planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago” from countries including Mali and Algeria.
The Sept. 11 date of the attack “leaves us in no doubt that this was preplanned,” Magariaf said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Arizona Senator John McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, disputed Rice’s contention that the attack on the Benghazi consulate was largely spontaneous.
“How spontaneous is a demonstration when people bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons?” McCain asked on CBS. He said there was “no doubt” the attack was waged by “extremists,” though he didn’t know how long it had been planned.
Rice said on ABC that a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe aims to determine what happened in the Sept. 11 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said protests “could percolate into the future.”
“This is a turbulent time” and a “time of dramatic change” in the Mideast, she said. Those causing the violence are a “small minority” and are “the ones who lost” in the move toward democracy, the ambassador said on CNN.
The U.S. is reinforcing embassy and consulate security throughout the Middle East following protests in countries including Sudan and Tunisa, Rice said, noting that the U.S. has had a diplomatic presence in Libya for “only a matter of months” following the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“I’ve visited there myself, both to Tripoli and Benghazi,” she said. “I was very grateful to have a strong security presence with me.”
Asked whether the violence in the region means Obama’s overtures to Muslims haven’t worked, she said “there have been substantial improvements.” She described the U.S. as “extremely popular in Libya.”
Rice said she is confident in the majority of Libyans, citing a public outcry over the killings of the Americans.
When democracy is taking root in a country, there may be “short-term turbulence,” she said. People in Libya are “not going to allow an extremist mob to hijack their future and their freedom.”