October 24th, 2012
11:38 PM ET

Doubts surface over e-mail on claim of responsibility for Benghazi attack

By CNN's Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

The often fiercely political debate over who knew what - and when - about the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi has taken another turn with the disclosure of a series of e-mails sent from the State Department on the night of the attack.

But the most explosive of the e-mails - which were released late Tuesday - may have been inaccurate, a "spot report" on a rapidly evolving and highly confusing situation.

The disclosure of the e-mail has given new life to the already fevered debate over when the Obama administration learned that the attack was more than a protest that turned deadly but was the work of terrorists.

The e-mail carried the subject line: "Update 2: Ansar al Sharia Claims Responsibility For Benghazi Attack." The message said: "Embassy Tripoli reports the group has claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli."

That message was sent to a wide range of federal offices, including the FBI, from the State Department at 6:07 p.m. ET on September 11 - seven minutes into September 12 in Libya. At that time, the attack on the consulate was ongoing, and the subsequent assault on the annex building, in which two more Americans would be killed, had not begun.

Also: Some Bengazi attackers connected to al Qaeda in Iraq

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and two other Republicans in the Senate wrote Wednesday to Obama, saying: "These emails make clear that your Administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it."

However, an examination of the known Facebook and Twitter accounts of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi reveals no such claim of responsibility. Aaron Zelin, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tracks dozens of jihadist websites and archives much of what they say. He told CNN he was unaware of any such claim having been posted on the official Facebook page or Twitter feed of Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi.

Zelin, who said his RSS feed sends him any new statement from the group, provided CNN with a copy of that feed. It shows no Facebook update between September 8 and September 12, when a posting late that afternoon first referenced the attack. Zelin notes that the posting referred to a news conference the group had held earlier that day in Benghazi in which it denied any role in the assault on the consulate, while sympathizing with the attackers.

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Accompanying a posting of the news conference on YouTube, a commentary says that the attack on the consulate was "a wave of rage for Allah and his Prophet, it came from the Muslim youths."

The posting continues: "Ansar al-Sharia brigade did not officially participate as a military body, nor received any orders directed from the brigade."

The group's Twitter feed tells the same story. The account, @anssarelshariea, bears the group's logo and a tweet on September 8 - and then nothing until four days later. And at no point is there a claim of involvement in or responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Consulate compound.

Perhaps the person who reported the claim of responsibility - and the threat against the consulate - was viewing another Ansar al-Sharia site, or one supportive of the group.

In the hours following such incidents, it is not unusual for "spot reports" from agencies and overseas posts to pour in to the State Department. They typically include intercepts, what's picked up on social media, witness accounts and what's being said by local officials. They often contain raw, unfiltered information that is then analyzed for clues, patterns and contradictions.

In the case of the Benghazi attack, there were plenty of contradictions. Such situations are frequently chaotic, with claim and counter-claim by witnesses unsure of what happened when, according to U.S. officials. Building a complete picture without access to first-hand-accounts and little visual evidence can be a major challenge to government experts working from thousands of miles away.

So too have been the attempts to pin down who represents Ansar al-Shariah and their movements on the night of the attack.

Wings of Ansar al-Sharia, which means "partisans" or "supporters of Islamic law," are based not only in Benghazi but in the Libyan town of Derna, east of Benghazi. The group's leaders in Derna are thought to include Abu Sufyan bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.

A different Ansar al-Sharia is affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and budding franchises are said to exist in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

As Zelin wrote last month in Foreign Policy, the groups "lack a unified command structure or even a bandleader like the central al Qaeda command....They are fighting in different lands using different means."

Wherever they may be, members of Ansar al-Shariah are united by a shared outlook, one that is implacably anti-Western and in favor of the imposition of Shariah law across the Muslim world.

The description on the Ansar al-Sharia (Benghazi) Twitter feed proclaims: "The goals of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah."

Zelin said he believes that the rise of the groups heralds the end of the dominance of global jihad by a single hierarchical organization such as al Qaeda - and returns the state of jihad to the jumble that characterized it during the 1990s.

"One key difference, however, is that jihadi groups are now more ideologically homogenous," Zelin wrote in Foreign Policy.

"In the 1990s, jihadis thought locally and acted locally, while many now talk globally and act locally."

CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report

soundoff (1,711 Responses)
  1. noreen

    Shame on CNN. Where have you been? Do you think we can't find other news outlets who do report the real news???
    You guys need to reset because it is obvious to most reasonably intelligent people that you cannot depend on CNN for the truth.

    May 7, 2013 at 5:11 am | Reply
    • mario

      CNN no longer hires news reporters. Its all commentary so you don't have to report real news. Why is CNN ignoring the new bengazi emails that show the white house lied to the American people? CNN doesn't even mention the fact that these emails were asked for a year ago and it took a freedom of information lawsuit to bring them to light. Your staff has no true reporters who are looking out for the public welfare. you may as well be collecting a paycheck from the Obama admin. so disappointed.

      April 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Reply
      • Christi Gardner

        So agree. All the news outlets have an agenda. But, when CNN ignores a story! that's too bad as they lose credibility..at least with the informed. Hopefully, they see that the public wants to see the whole story. I like CNN, but this is disappointing and will be channel surfing, for sure.

        April 29, 2014 at 11:49 pm |
      • Earl

        CNN everytime their is news in Washington that is could questions the administrations actions they ignore or give small sound bite. It appears they check with the administration before airing

        May 2, 2014 at 12:58 pm |
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  6. mrcarlin28

    Why have you not reported on this since?
    We have the right to know the truth!

    November 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  7. Ali

    CNN, you are NOT "the most trusted name in news"!! Do you not read any of the compaints?Your decision to blatantly ignore these complaints, and to go full speed ahead in pulling out all the stops just so that you, msnbc and other liberal mainstream media can literally drag Obama across the finish line. Your decision to not report on Obama's inconvenient truth on Libya before the election has absolutely disgusted me. Your network has tunnelvision and refuses to report what the truth is. Watch out cnn...you will be held accountable... The last time that I will view your network will be election day...Just to see you spin. I have as of two days ago switched over to viewing Fox news... P.S. You just had to bring in the big guns such as Gloria Steinem three days before election day to talk about birth control. You must be getting desperate CNN!

    November 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  8. dpcraig01

    I remember when CNN reporting was tops – dig until you reach the bottom of the story, never stop. what happened to you folks? Bengazi is so big to so many of us....but like Obama, you have become....small.

    November 2, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  9. Eric Stewart

    Search Google for The Benghazi Brigade – Manipulating an Election, for an education.

    November 2, 2012 at 8:30 am | Reply
  10. Grady jones

    Please do your job now. As a young man my country went to war, CNN was my source, I was rivitetd to your news organization.
    On September 11 2001 I was shocked horrified mad and proud of you and my country.
    This September 11 2012 four Americans died and we did nothing.
    Please do not dishonor these men any further with your silence!!!
    Thank god there is at least one news organization "fox".

    How do y'all sleep at night and call CNN a news organization!

    November 2, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
    • txvoter

      It's about time other news media besides Fox and The Blaze have the guts to report on the tragic Benghazi issue. You know, the NEWS, a responsibility of the news media. However, you've managed to "delay" the reporting and helped "downsize" the "complete" story. The Obama administration is pushing it until after the election, pushing it all under the rug and the left wing news reporters are happy to give Obama aid in doing so. Do your job, report the news, get off your personal Democratic agenda and let the Americans make their own informed opinions. By not reporting as you should, you are letting down those that were killed, the family and our country's security, Quit running out the clock and do your job–news reporting! You've finally made a start although a weak one.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:08 am | Reply
      • axexeda

        Well put my friend. CNN has declined so low in their duty to report facts on time.

        November 2, 2012 at 5:50 am |
  11. Mary-Anne

    Finally someone's got a story
    check it out


    November 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  12. B Boyd

    Why is this story not a bigger issue with CNN? Why is the murder of our ambassador not a bigger story? Why do we not have answers six weeks after to crime? CNN is supposed to have investigative reporters finding out the truth in issues like this. What is CNN trying to hide? Why are the FOX News reporters the only ones asking the tough questions? I have tried to be supportive of your coverage but find the blatant back turning on our American Heroes protecting our country disgraceful and disgusting.

    November 1, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  13. jamz

    Do your job you counterfeit journalist__derelict in chief__4 dead__HEY!__DO YOUR DAMN JOB YOU COUNTERFEIT!__FAKE!___Do your job you counterfeit journalist__derelict in chief__4 dead__HEY!__DO YOUR DAMN JOB YOU COUNTERFEIT!__Do your job you counterfeit journalist__derelict in chief__4 dead__HEY!__DO YOUR DAMN JOB YOU COUNTERFEIT!__Do your job you counterfeit journalist__derelict in chief__4 dead__HEY!__DO YOUR DAMN JOB YOU COUNTERFEIT!__Do your job you counterfeit journalist__derelict in chief__4 dead__HEY!__DO YOUR DAMN JOB YOU COUNTERFEIT!

    November 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply

      your source for pseudo Micky Mouse journalism. bogus heap of fresh two legged donkey crap.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
    • John H. Harris

      The Tragedy of Benghazi and Its Cover-Up
      Will It Be Obama’s Waterloo?
      Will It Derail His Re-Election Train?

      I believe the simple answer is yes, I think it will!

      The sacrifice of our people in Benghazi, and the handling of its aftermath by the President and his top people has been a heavy blow to the American people.

      They will need to place blame to begin the healing process, and placing that blame where it belongs will result in changed minds and changed votes.

      If Mr. Obama loses on Nov 6th, he won’t have far to look to place another kind of blame.

      Here’s Why

      When the full picture of “Benghazi” surfaces it will hit home hard and we will feel ashamed and embarrassed for the actions, inactions and incompetence of people we trusted to insure the safety of our Diplomatic details overseas.

      A review of recent testimony before Congress makes it abundantly clear that the Obama Administration had priorities in Libya that they deemed more important than the safety of our people. Because they were not a priority, their many “cries for help” and support were ignored, turned down or buried by bureaucrats and in the end, four brave souls were sacrificed to the Administration’s failed policies and improperly placed priorities.

      Chis Stevens not only lost the fight for what he needed from Washington, he and three others paid the ultimate price for that loss with their lives. Shame on you Washington and shame on us if we don’t get to the bottom of this mess, right the ship, and set a new course.

      Putting things into perspective: While national issues like the debt, the deficit, income, wealth, taxes, employment, and health care are certainly important, most mistakes in these areas are not fatal. Errors in Strategic Foreign Policy, National Security, Rules of Engagement, our posture to the world, and the protection of our citizens everywhere are matters of life and death, and unfortunately in this case, they led to death in Benghazi.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
      • Grady jones

        Thanks for your thought, well stated

        November 2, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • John H. Harris

      President Obama’s
      1st National Security Accomplishment?

      He personally banned the words Terrorism, Terrorist, Jihad, Jihadist, Extremist, Muslim and Islam from the text of his 2009, 60 Page National Security Strategy Statement. (Source Fox News)

      Presidents Bush and Obama Differed Greatly in their
      Initial Responses to the Respective 911's

      A review of the White House Transcripts of initial public responses from Presidents Bush and Obama on the 9/11 attacks that occurred on their respective watches reminds us of the stark differences between the two men, how they view themselves and the world, how they react to crisis and how they communicate to the American people. Comparing the two we see that:

      President Bush, painted by his opponents to be the dumbest President in American history, delivered a “Presidential” address to the Nation from behind his desk in the Oval Office. An address that correctly informed us that the attacks were “Terrorist Attacks” committed by “Terrorists”. He was very reassuring as our Commander-in-Chief and only took 402 words to do it. There was transparency and no questions of a cover-up.

      By contrast, President Obama, the smartest President in American history, according to the President himself and his minions, used a garden setting to deliver a well-crafted, but emotionless, "preacher like”, 800+ word address that was seen live and on YouTube, by 100's of millions around the world. A speech that again stressed style over substance and was crafted more to appeasing and apologizing to our enemies, than to consoling a shocked, saddened and angry nation.

      What we needed at that moment was not the oratory of a UN Secretary General, but straight talk from the leader of the free world. That leader was not in the house that day or in the weeks to come.

      And once in the 47 day since 9/11 has the President ever used the words “terrorism”, “terrorist”, Jihad, Jihadist, Extremist, Muslim or Islam to describe the tragedy that was Benghazi..

      And as a nation we were, and continue to be, left wondering whether the President really was clueless and out of touch with reality, or just not going to be straight with the American people before the election.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  14. jamz


    November 1, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  15. jamz


    November 1, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  16. John H.

    As of this morning (11/01), Fox is still unfolding new information concerning this issue that many of us deem important (myself included). I really need to write off CNN and just follow Fox as I have come to the realization that I am really getting extremely filtered news on this site. Something as important as another 9/11 that appears to have been preventable is not something I think of as “old news” and swept under the rug so quickly AND without providing us Americans with direct answers to so many unanswered questions.

    November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
    • Cagard

      That is exactly what I am doing! No wonder the media only has an 8per cent approval. They are in the same category as ambulance chasers and most politicians! It is a slimy group!

      November 1, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • Active Duty Navy

      You nailed it John, and most of the others posting below on this issue of bias media coverage of the hard truths about our current administration. Most of the news on this site is filtered and channeled to focus a favorable view on CNN's own political agenda. I will tell you all something that I have noticed since this attack happened that I think is pretty substantial, the feeling around my peers here in the military is "uneasy" about this whole situation. When the president asks SEAL team six to kill Bin Laden they did it without question. When a SEAL is in trouble and asks his administration for military assistance, they tell him to "Stand Down." You see I don't require further answers now because the situation as it sits speaks for itself. So in a way Dave is also right. What more do you want to know? All the answers are already in plain sight. And if you still don't get it I will spell it out for you right here. They dropped the ball and four americans are dead because of it.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:56 am | Reply
      • John H. Harris

        In preparing for press conferences, press briefings and televised national debates reaching 100+ million worldwide it is inconceivable that Obama and Biden didn’t ask their respective “handlers” and debate prep teams, “where am I vulnerable and what do I say.”

        When President Obama 1st heard about Benghazi on 911 his 1st response was “get them out of there” but "how can we spin this?" I'd bet the farm, and the wife, that David Axelrod had the answer within hours after the attack started.

        While Obama and Clinton, with Jay Carney parroting, have promised to find and prosecute those who carried out the attack, they have said absolutely nothing about holding responsible those in the administration who were complicit in those deaths.

        We need the House or an independent prosecutor to get to the truth and for those complicit to be publicly shamed and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

        Given all the broken promises, and the less than forthright way he has handled Benghazi, how can we trust anything the President says or promises in his campaign to get reelected?

        November 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
      • SGT Larabee

        Have you seen the poster or website?
        specialops2012.com facebook is in the tank for our commander in chief too.

        November 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
      • Jim L

        I replied to wrong post.
        Have you seen the poster or website?
        specialops2012.com facebook is in the tank for our commander in chief too.

        November 1, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Jim L

      I remember when CNN was a real news network. Kind of sad when they have gone.

      November 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • txvoter

      That's true. If you want ACCURATE, COMPLETE, THOROUGH news reporting, tune in to FOX news. The others want to "censure" what's reported to the American people in support of Obama. I'm an Independent voter and cast my vote based on "accurate" information (including FACT CHECKING) and based on my views concerning political issues. Fox has been the only news station that has supplied the facts and fact checking of the presidential candidates. Funny that Romney has proved to be by far more truthful than Obama. He may have sounded good in the last two debates, but if you'd checked the facts you'd find Obama should have a nose two feet long!!

      November 2, 2012 at 3:14 am | Reply
  17. Christie

    Hello? CNN? Are any responsible journalists with a conscience there?? Why aren't you covering the news on the Benghazi incident? You are only hurting yourselves by this blatent, obvious and indefensible bias toward an agenda!!

    November 1, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  18. Sharon Walker

    Where are the Super PACs when you need them. If Romney is concerned about losing independents, and the White House won't respond to any of our elected officials; why doesn't a Republican Super PAC put out a final five days ad blitz with facts about Benghazi?

    November 1, 2012 at 1:49 am | Reply
  19. ab

    Does anyone at CNN read the posts here? Why don't they ask the hard question? Americans are angry with CNN and other news agencies who look the other way when it comes to Obama.

    November 1, 2012 at 1:30 am | Reply
  20. Sgt. Larabee

    It is good to see how many intelligent people are upset about CNN coverage on this issue. After Sec. Clinton took responsibility for this mess, President Obama stated he had responsibility for this mess, then says it has nothing to do with the election. Well that is for the electorate do decide and them alone. Taking responsibility means accepting consequences. You can not do former without the latter.

    Well again, thanks for your concern. I remember when I thought CNN was a great new organization. LOL, yeah I am that old.

    October 31, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Reply
    • Stanley Muhr

      Very well said!

      November 1, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
  21. dave

    People care less about Ben Ghazi than Ben Cartright.

    October 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • jim

      No, the people care, just CNN and other Obama media refuse to ask question before the election.

      October 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  22. jake

    Cut the Red Tape on this Obama!
    obama and his administration is stonewalling the American public.

    We have a right to know what really happened – before the election not after.

    October 31, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • dave

      Funny how you say "before the election and not after." Watch how fast Fox "News" drops the subject after Obama wins the election.

      October 31, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
      • jake

        you don't wonder what happened dave?
        Don't you think if obama was a hero he would or someone in his circle would be screaming it from the rooftops. Good grief -this is the man who 'got osama'.
        And now all we get it that I have provided information as it has become known. BS.

        so you are basically saying that you will vote for obama no matter if he is a hero or an incompetent fool. That it does not matter to you, its obama over everything else.

        You are part of the problem dave.

        October 31, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  23. john

    I can't believe you would fail to investigate this story. Your bias to prop up Obama at any cost. It's gotten to the point it makes me sick to my stomach. There goes your credibility with me.

    October 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
    • dave

      Benghazi happened over a week ago. Everyone but Fox "News" has moved on.

      October 31, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply
      • joe white

        4 dead americans and nothing was done to save them and you say move on. Shame on you!!

        October 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  24. dave

    profoundly dissapointed there has been no looking into this story. you all wonder why we are leaving you for fox!

    October 31, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
    • dave


      October 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  25. tdillard

    CNN, what a complete and utter disappointment you have become. If one party and its favored network is falsely reporting a Libya scandal to make our President look bad, this is huge news to be investigated and covered. If what they are saying is true, then this is big news and needs to be covered. There is no middle ground here. If you are this much in the tank for one party over another, then you have crossed the line from honest journalism to dishonest propaganda.

    October 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  26. Mike

    Again, why is CNN not reporting anything on Benghazi?

    You can't call yourselves responsible journalists if you don't report on one of the biggest stories of the day!

    Woodward and Bernstein would not have ignored this. You should be ashamed!!!!

    October 31, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • concettogroup

      The reporters from CNN have been told to "Stand Down".

      October 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  27. pmiller

    Why has CNN not posted an article since October 25th about the Benghazi incident. Do you all have any real reporters working at CNN who can get to the truth?

    October 31, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Reply
    • dave

      That was last week. We've moved on.

      October 31, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  28. budj1950

    http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-864724 Admin Guilty Of the murders. See why!

    October 31, 2012 at 1:43 am | Reply
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