Already during the fighting against Qaddafi, the US was concerned about the presence in Libya and across North Africa of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. But Tuesday’s attack appears to have been instigated by another organization, Ansar al-Sharia, whose followers adhere to the extremely conservative Salafi movement that rejects Western influence and demands a return to strict Muslim practices of past centuries.
Salafi forces appeared to be behind Tuesday’s violent protests at the US Embassy in Cairo as well as the Benghazi attack. The armed mobs were expressing their fury over an amateurish anti-Islamic video that denigrates the prophet Mohammed. The video was made last year in California by someone claiming to be an Israeli-American real estate developer.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday, President Obama eulogized the four lost Americans as exemplary agents of “freedom and human dignity,” even as he insisted that “no acts of terrorism will ever … eclipse the light of the values we stand for.”
The US government is working with the Libyan authorities to “bring to justice” the perpetrators of the deadly attack, Mr. Obama said, adding, “Make no mistake: Justice will be done.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stood with Obama for the statement, reported earlier that in addition to Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith was killed in the attack. The names of the other two Americans killed were not immediately released.
Obama also insisted in his statement that “this attack will not break the bonds between the United States of America and Libya,” but it is hard to see how it won’t affect US relations with Libya, the Arab Spring countries, and the wider Muslim world.