The White House said Thursday that the September 11 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack with possible ties to al-Qaeda, dpa reported.
White House spokesman Jay Carney gave the highest-level statement to date that US officials believe the killing of US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US officials was the work of terrorists.
"It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," Carney told reporters. "Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials."
Asked if the President Barack Obama also saw it as a terrorist attack, Carney referenced testimony given in the US Senate on Wednesday by Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Centre.
Olsen told the Senate panel that investigators were looking at "indications" that the attackers "may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda's affiliates, in particular, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM).
Until Wednesday, US officials had said they were uncertain about the motivation and that it was not clear if the attack was provoked by an anti-Islam internet video, Innocence of Muslims, or the result of careful planning by a terrorist group.
Citing Olsen's testimony, Carney insisted that there was still no information to suggest a "significantly pre-planned attack.
Olsen told the Senate that the question of pre-planning was "complicated" and still under investigation. Since the attack had evolved and escalated over several hours, it appeared that well-armed individuals "seized on the opportunity" to attack, he said.
Senator Susan Collins was sceptical, saying other briefings had led her to "the opposite conclusion." She said she agreed with Libyan officials who have called it a "premeditated, planned attack ... associated with the date of 9/11."
"I just don't think that people come to protest equipped with (rocket-propelled grenades) and other heavy weapons," she said.
Carney said the date of the attack was irrelevant, saying: "Had this happened on any day of the week on any month, this would have been a terrorist attack."
The ambassador's death came one day after al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri posted a video on jihadist forums urging Libyans to avenge the killing of the network's second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, in a US drone strike this year in Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda called on Muslims living in the West to attack key targets, and described the internet film, privately produced in the United States, as "another chapter in the crusader wars" against Islam.