The Embassy Attacks
Director of Middle East and Counter-Terrorism Affairs (GSFC)
The United States has been reeling from a series of protests and attacks at U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East. On the 11th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed along with two ex-Navy SEALS, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods along with Information Officer Sean Smith. Gunmen attacked the Libyan consulate at around 10:30 pm Libyan time with small arms and explosives and was able to breach the perimeter. Most of the staff was escorted out to safety and since been flown to Germany for debriefing but the ambassador and several others remained. At the same time, the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked where protestors tore down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag that said “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger”. Embassies attacked from Morocco to Yemen have been reported and concerns for further attacks in additional countries have been expressed.
What media reports claim is that these attacks were in response to a film created in California about the life of Mohammad called “The Innocence of Muslims” which painted the prophet as a fraud and sexual deviant. Mass protests have been gathering in the Middle East in many Islamic countries and calls to similar protests have been made in western nations to include the United States. Similar events were witnessed in the Draw Mohammad Day in 2010 and the Danish cartoons of Mohammad in 2005.
Yet a major difference between these events is that two of them were spontaneous rallies of violence and the other was a coordinated terrorist attack that was planned.
First it is no surprise that Islamic terrorists use special dates as spring boards to conduct attacks against targets around the world. In fact the September 11th attack’s date was specifically chosen in reference to the Battle of Vienna in 1683 where the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Holy Roman Empire and Poland thus expelling the Islamic empire from Hungary some years later and ending Ottoman expansion in the European continent. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – when he was alive – had made reference to this particular battle thus speculating that connection. Intelligence agencies around the world also recognize the importance of dates in reference to terrorism and around the anniversary carefully monitor terrorist chatter in the event of another attack.
Another thing to note are the recent killings of high profile terrorist leaders. Al Qaeda’s number two, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan in June and Al Qaeda in Yemen’s number two, Saeed al-Shihri on September 10th. These significant events have no doubt drawn the ire of Islamic terrorists and shifting political balances in the region have given such groups a renewed zeal.
The savagery of these attacks were timed all too close to each other in the aftermath of these two leaders’ deaths and the September 11th anniversary. Such a coincidence should not be ignored as the film in question, which was speculated to start these attacks, is a red herring to the greater political and security situation of the region. Already, an al Qaeda affiliated group has claimed responsibility for the attack and evidence shows a 42 minute video released by Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on September 10th which confirmed al-Libi’s death and called for Muslims to exploit American weaknesses and to “liberate” every inch of Islamic land from the Americans and Jews.
Given the lax security at the consulate in Libya, the al-Zawahiri video may have been the catalyst for the attack. There were no U.S. Marines at the consulate and local police were tasked with protecting the exterior of the consulate itself. However, reports indicate that Libyan police failed to protect the consulate and instead allowed the attackers to enter. In Cairo, there have been independent reports of Marines not having ammunition in their rifles prior to the attack at the American embassy but was denied by the Department of Defense.
After the attack at the Benghazi consulate, sensitive data was taken which may have included information on Libyans working with the United States and American safe house locations throughout the country. All safe house locations have been deemed compromised and at least one was attacked by mortar fire as American personnel were being evacuated.
Warnings of a potential attack was made as early as August when a report written by Chris Blanchard titled Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy noted the lack of security in the country and rouge elements operating without impunity. This warning was echoed by the Congressional Research Service. President Barack Obama has skipped half of his daily intelligence briefings and reports indicate he has not attended his briefings since September 5th. The lack of decision with regards to the security situation for American diplomats in the Middle East has cost the lives of four Americans and continuing protests ensure the possibility of more fatalities should they persist.
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