In recent days, Magarief has championed the view among Libyan officials that the attack on the U.S. consulate was pre-planned by foreigners, and he has rejected the notion that it began as a demonstration against a crude video that insults the Prophet Muhammad. Protests against the video, “Innocence of Muslims,” turned violent last week in Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia.
Importantly, it was a deputy interior minister with responsibility for Benghazi security, Wanis al Sharif, who first said there had been a demonstration outside the consulate. Sharif also at first said that no one was in the mission at the time of the attack and then, after the news of the deaths of Stevens and the other Americans were announced, tried to put the blame equally on the Americans and pro-Gadhafi sympathizers. He said the alleged demonstration outside the mission over the video had been peaceful until U.S. security guards started firing – a version that has been refuted by eyewitnesses and was branded “ridiculous” by influential parliamentarian Salah Ajouda Jawdah.
Sharif, who was responsible for investigating the attack, was fired on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration appeared to be retreating from its insistence that the Benghazi attack was spurred by the video, with White House spokesman Jay Carney noting that there’s an ongoing investigation and that "the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead."
Carney said the investigation would examine whether there had been enough security at the consulate in Benghazi, in light of warnings of possible violence related to the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The Benghazi attack occurred on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
"All I can tell you is that steps are taken, both seen and unseen, in advance of and in preparation for times like the anniversary of 9/11 when it is judged that there might be greater threats, and those steps are based on the threat assessments that we have at the time," Carney said.
According to a security guard on duty at the consulate on the night of the attack, the consulate’s outer perimeter was protected by five private security contractors and three members of a local Libyan militia when the assailants appeared and began lobbing grenades into the compound. In addition, there were an unknown number of American security contractors inside the compound. Two of those, former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed in the attack. Sean Smith, an information technology specialist, was also killed.
Carney also said he was unaware of any advance notice that violence was increasing specifically in Libya before the attack, though news stories published by McClatchy and others over the month prior to the Benghazi assault had detailed the growing number of assaults in Benghazi and Tripoli.
Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington.