State Department spokesman Mark Toner reaffirmed Tuesday that the 2012 terrorist attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, were planned and coordinated by extremists rather than motivated by an anti-Islamic YouTube video.
Toner answered questions about the Benghazi attacks at the State Department press briefing on the day that House Republicans released an 800-page report on the incident in which they blamed bureaucratic delays and political considerations by U.S. officials for not stopping the assault.
Four Americans, including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed on September 11, 2012, when terrorists stormed the diplomatic outpost, which Toner said on Tuesday was not sufficiently protected. Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration initially blamed the attack on a YouTube video that slandered the Prophet Mohammad, which they said inspired a spontaneous protest that grew violently out of hand. Then-United Nations ambassador Susan Rice appeared on several Sunday news shows following the Benghazi attack to say that the video motivated the assault.
The administration later changed its narrative and called the incident a pre-planned terrorist attack.
Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper asked Toner on Tuesday to clarify the administration’s official position on the role that the video played in the attack.
Toner said the government’s initial assessment took the video into account because of events that were occurring at the time throughout the Middle East and North Africa, including protests at embassies in Cairo and Khartoum that were motivated in part by a video "that was seen as blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad."
"But I think with respect to Benghazi," Toner continued, "after several days or a week or so, we quickly changed that analysis to better represent the facts as we knew them, which was that it was a coordinated attack on our facilities by an armed force of extremists."
Toner said that administration officials "did the best we could to convey the facts as we knew them at the time to the American people" in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
"Just to clarify, you no longer believe the video played any role in motivating these extremists?" Klapper asked.
"To be honest, I don’t think we’ve ever been able to categorically say that the video played no role, but what I think we have been able to say is that this wasn’t a demonstration gone awry; this was a coordinated attack," Toner responded.
"So you don’t believe the video was the motivating factor for this attack? Klapper asked again.
"Yes, yes, yes," Toner said. "What I can say is that this was not some demonstration motivated by this video that suddenly spun up into an attack on our facilities. This was a coordinated attack."
Hillary Clinton had told her daughter and the Egyptian prime minister shortly after the attack that the Benghazi assault was a "planned attack" by an "al Qaeda-like group" before the administration publicly blamed the YouTube video.