Conflicting accounts: Was attack in Libya coordinated or spontaneous?

Chris Usher/AP Chris Usher/AP Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

As the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community investigate the attack in Libya that killed four American diplomats, debate rages over whether it was a planned attack or spontaneous violence.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, maintained on Sunday that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not planned by terrorist groups. She said the attack spun out of protests, which were sparked by an anti-Islamic video produced in the U.S.

“This was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack,” she said on Fox News Sunday. “What happened initially was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. People with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons—which, unfortunately, are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya—and that then spun out of control.”

However, Rep. Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said the evidence pointed in the other direction, citing the style and coordination of the attack.

“I think it’s too early to make that conclusion,” Rogers said on the same show. “The way that the attack took place, I have serious questions. It seemed to be a military-style, coordinated. They had indirect fire coordinated with direct fire, rocket attacks. They were able to launch two different separate attacks on locations there near the consulate and they repelled a fairly significant Libyan force that came to rescue the embassy.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also cast doubt on the administration’s claim that the violence in Libya was spontaneous.

“Most people don’t bring rocket propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration,” McCain said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “That was an act of terror. And for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact, I think really is really ignoring the facts.”

Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf on Sunday held a similar position to Rogers and McCain, saying he had “no doubt” the attack was pre-planned.

“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Magariaf condemned the violence, calling the attack “ugly deeds, criminal deeds.” About 50 arrests have been made in Libya in connection to the attack, he said.

The Libyan government has previously blamed al-Qaida for the attack. The group claimed responsibility for the attack as a retaliation for the anti-Islamic video. Rogers called that a convenient excuse.

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