ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE - The White House said on Thursday it was "self-evident" that a deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a "terrorist attack" that may have had an al Qaeda connection, reinforcing an intelligence assessment of the violence.
"It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters travelling with President Barack Obama. "Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials."
Carney's comments backed congressional testimony on Wednesday by Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, that the consulate assault was a terrorist act. But Carney did not go any further in clarifying whether the administration believed the attack was pre-planned.
Carney echoed Olsen's testimony that an individual involved in the attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya last week, may have had connections to al Qaeda.
"That is the best indication we have now. There is an ongoing investigation," Carney said.
In recent days, Obama administration officials have slightly softened their claim that the attack was not preplanned, saying that while there is no intelligence to suggest it was, not all the facts are known. Anger over a film insulting to Islam unleashed a wave of violent protests at U.S. and other Western diplomatic missions in the Muslim world in recent days.
Debate over whether militant groups preplanned the violent assault in Benghazi and whether the consulate was adequately protected have become election-season fodder, with Republican lawmakers demanding answers and the Democratic administration seeking to deflect criticism that it should have been better prepared.