The deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was led by fighters who benefited from NATO's support in the uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, and not al-Qaeda terrorists, the New York Times reported.
The Times, citing extensive interviews with Libyans who had direct knowledge of the attack, said it found no evidence that al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups had a role in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The newspaper said the Sept. 11 assault was fueled by anger over an American-made video denigrating Islam, the argument made by U.S. officials at the time.
Two senior House Republicans took issue with the Times story in separate televised interviews Sunday.
On the day of the attack, U.S. envoy David McFarland had sent a cable to Washington under Stevens' name, describing a meeting with militia leaders in eastern Libya two days earlier. The meeting highlighted both "growing problems with security" and the fighters' desire for investment by American companies in the city, according to the Times story.
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, declined to comment on the Times story.
Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in television interviews five days after the 2012 attack, said the assault was a "spontaneous" protest against the anti-Islamic video that was "hijacked" by militants.
Republicans in Congress criticized Rice and the Obama administration's handling of the attack, saying officials "willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative."
In the days after the attack, White House and senior State Department officials "altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community in order to protect the State Department," according to the interim report on the assault issued in April by House Republicans.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that he still believes the Obama administration hid al-Qaeda's connection to the attack in a bid to bolster its record fighting organized terrorism. A group involved in the attack "claims an affiliation with al-Qaeda," he said.
Issa also said he doubts the Times' conclusion that the video Innocence of Muslims, made by an American and shared on YouTube, played a major role in spurring the violence.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Fox News Sunday that the Times story is inaccurate in suggesting al-Qaeda was not involved. The newspaper's account also wasn't based on accounts from those directly involved in the "fighting and shooting and intelligence gathering," he said.
"There was some level of pre-planning, we know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by al-Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya, we know that. The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound," he said. "All of that would directly contradict what the New York Times definitely says was an exhaustive investigation."