Libya attack: Panel created to investigate 'terrorist attack' on Benghazi consulate


US Deputy Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs William Burns (L) and Mohamed al-Megaryef, president of Libya's ruling national assembly, attend a ceremony to honor late US ambassador Chris Stevens on Sept. 20, 2012, in Tripoli. Last week's deadly assault on the US diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi was a "terrorist attack" by militants who may have had Al Qaeda ties, the White House said.



On Thursday, the White House deemed the attack on a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans an act of terror, The New York Times reported.

"It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” press secretary Jay Carney said, according to the Times. His comments followed testimony by the nation's top counterterrorism official on Wednesday that described the attack as terrorism.

The designation is significant given criticism the administration has received from Republicans claiming that the White House has tried to downplay a threat that some believe heavier monitoring might have prevented, the Times reported. Reuters had also noted that whether the attack was planned or not has been a point of argument between the Obama administration and "Republican lawmakers who say it bears the hallmarks of a premeditated assault."

Also on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of a panel to investigate the attack, Reuters reported. Clinton was also set to give a classified briefing to members of the Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday, according to the news outlet.

Speaking at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen had said that the attack appears to have been an opportunistic act of terrorism in the midst of protests over a film denigrating Islam, rather than one that was planned in advance, CNN reported.

More from GlobalPost: Anti-US protests: Was it all politics?

Olsen also said the attack may have been carried out by people with connections to Al Qaeda, Reuters reported.

According to CNN, Olsen said it "appears that individuals who were certainly well armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning of September 12. We do know that a number of militants in [the] area, as I mentioned, are well armed and maintain those arms. What we don't have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack."

Nonetheless, according to Yahoo News, Olsen and White House spokesman Jay Carney said that investigators were still looking into the possibility that the attack was planned, although no evidence to suggest that it was had yet been found.