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Libya Consulate Attack

Aired September 12, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Tonight, disturbing new information is emerging, and many questions about the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues last night.

The grenade assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was originally thought to have been sparked by rage over an anti-Islamic film in the United States. But now U.S. sources tell CNN that the operation was planned by an Al Qaeda offshoot and that the attackers may have used the angry protest outside as a diversion.

It's not clear whether the attackers instigated that protest or simply took advantage of it. The U.S. officials also tell CNN it appears that Ambassador Stevens was not specifically targeted. They tell CNN the building was attacked and set ablaze by a rocket-propelled grenade, and that Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation.

Stevens played a key role during Libya's revolution last year, and he began his job as ambassador just a few months ago. Take a look at the video that he made introducing himself to the Libyan people.



CHRISTOPHER STEVENS, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA: Assalamu alaikum. My name is Chris Stevens and I'm the new U.S. ambassador to Libya. I had the honor to serve as the U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition during the revolution, and I was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up and demand their rights.

Now I'm excited to return to Libya to continue the great work we've started, building a solid partnership between the U.S. and Libya to help you, the Libyan people, achieve your goals.


AMANPOUR: Ambassador Stevens was 52 years old.

The Libyan government quickly denounced the attack and promised to bring the killers to justice.


MOHAMMED AL-MEGARYEF, PRESIDENT, LIBYA'S RULING GENERAL NATIONAL CONGRESS: We apologize to the U.S., and to the American people and to the government and also to the rest of the world for what happened yesterday.


AMANPOUR: And after what happened, a somber U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly condemned the attack.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be.

But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya.


AMANPOUR: Indeed, the majority of Libyans support U.S. leadership. Fifty-four percent approve, making it one of the highest approval ratings Gallup has ever recorded in the Arab world. And joining me now to discuss all of this, Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining me. On this very sad day, let me just ask you first, what Chris Stevens meant to your people and to your country.

ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, LIBYA'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, Christiane, I'm very sad and this is one of the sad days in my life. Chris, he is a personal friend. He is a tennis partner. He's the man who knows Libya very well before and after. He's the man who stand by the Libyan people. He was the right man for the right place and the right time.

It is a great loss, you know, for the Libyan people in the first place, and really, strongly condemn what happening in American consulate in Libya and really extend my condolence to his family, to the government. As you said in your report that Libyan people, they will never forget and appreciate when the American came long way to protect us from Gadhafi's weapons. And they stand by us.

But I must say also that we -- you stand by us in a very difficult time during the revolution. You have to stand by us now in the time of peace, which we're trying to process our democracy and to elect our prime minister. I am very sad. He comes to the house. We have breakfast together. He was welcome in every place he went in Libya. He was very welcome by the Libyan people. It is a great loss.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador, of course, the great loss of the ambassador and also three other American diplomats --

AUJALI: And three other --

AMANPOUR: -- who were trying to --

AUJALI: -- sure, sure.

AMANPOUR: -- do the same for your country. But let me ask you, you have vowed, your country, to hunt them down. President Obama has insisted they be brought to justice, those who launched this attack and who killed American diplomats.

We understand that the United States has already had drones flying over, will have more drones flying over to gather intelligence and to hand information over to your government.

Do you really think that your government can apprehend these people?

AUJALI: Well, Christiane, if you listen to the president of the General National Council this morning, he made a very strong statement and he said in the statement that Libya will do everything to arrest these people and bring them to justice.

And I am confident that every single Libyan will be working to achieve this goal. You remember last few weeks, there were also car bombs in Tripoli. And we've been able to capture some of the people who are responsible for that. And that was a line to lead us to that who is responsible and the (inaudible) they get from overseas.

It is our birunity (ph). We must know these people. We must know this cells who are working in the dark, you know, to destabilize Libya, to destabilize our relation with friendly countries.

AMANPOUR: Who do you think did this? We're now hearing from U.S. sources telling CNN that this was a preplanned attack, that it was most likely an offshoot of Al Qaeda, a jihadist group. Who do you think did it?

AUJALI: Well, I believe this is a small terrorist group. At the time being, maybe it's still early for me to say who will be responsible for that investigation start since last night, last night. They're questioning many people who is going through (ph).

But of course, as you know, there are some signs, you know, it is the September 11 coincidence with the attack on the American (inaudible) Benghazi, you know, also it could be a jihadist. It could be a terrorist. It could be Al Qaeda.

It could be Gadhafi's regime's succeeded (ph). It's still early to make. But we have to be -- to concentrate and on how do we get the right information to arrest the right people in the very right time.

AMANPOUR: Well, this brings me to the next question, obviously. That part of eastern Libya is still very difficult and very dangerous, even by your own admission the government hasn't got full security control in that region.

And many of our colleagues, journalists and other people say that it is a hotbed of radical groups, of militants, of jihadis, that even Al Qaeda offshoots. I mean, that presents a huge challenge for your country. How are you going to get control of the eastern part of Libya to make sure this doesn't happen again?

AUJALI: Well, I think in the first place, Libyan -- what's happening in the east part of Libya, that's the Libyan that had the insolvency (ph), you know. That's what make their country or their city is not secure to receive people, to receive investment, to have a normal life. And this is really sad. And the second that Gadhafi left nothing behind him, just destructions.

We have to build a good army. We have to build a new police forces and intelligence service. And I think we need the support of the international community, the United States, that we train the right people. I believe that in the long run, that we will be able to establish the forces we need to keep peace and stability.

You know, building a nation is not an easy issue. It will need money. It will need time and will need a good planning. But I think the countries and the NATOs and the United States who support us in that time, I think they'd like very much and they do everything possible to see Libya is a secure country, is a stable country.

This is very important for our region, very important for the security of Libya, very important for the security of the region.

AMANPOUR: As you know, in this emerging democracy after the Arab Spring, whether in Libya or in Egypt or Tunisia or wherever, there are these groups of very hardline, let's say, Salafis or jihadis or radicals, whatever you want to call them, there are people who don't like the direction of moderation that is transpiring, whether it's in your country or Tunisia or Egypt.

How difficult is it going to be to win that battle of ideas against the Salafis, for instance?

AUJALI: I think they are a very small minority especially in Libya. And this (inaudible) unfortunate they are taking the advantage of the new atmosphere of democracy in this free country. As you know, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Before they cannot come out the regimes they will deal them in the way you know.

But of course, the new atmosphere, the new life of this country, they are taking advantage of that. But the good thing about this that the majority, 95-98 percent of the Libyan people, they are not with this. Libya, they -- Libyan people, they want a normal life. They want a normal relation. And they will have no place to live beside us.

Of course, now they are taking advantage of the -- of the weeks, of the certain department in Libya we have not been able to have a good control of the city, of the -- of the department. But I am sure that will not be the case for a long time. We are working very hard.

We are sending some people for training and different countries and of course, we also hope that and we are not only hoping, that we are all cooperating with the United States and will be with different countries and with the Arab countries.

How can we surrender this kind of people? How can we get them? How can we bring them to justice? This is most important. The Libyan people, they want peace. They've been suffering for 42 years.

And they've been suffering for eight months of a real war against them. They don't really -- can offer another time for any terrorist attack against us or against foreigner or against our friends or against diplomatic corps, which we are really responsible to protect them from this kind of attacks.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Aujali, thank you for joining us.

AUJALI: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: So many challenges ahead. And when we come back, the United States and its allies, France and Britain, help lead the effort to overthrow 40 years of dictatorship in Libya. Will yesterday's killings undo all that? Our panel of experts weighs in.

But first, take a look at this picture. That's the outer wall of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, covered with graffiti after yesterday's protest when the wall was breached and the American flag was replaced by a black jihadist banner. We'll be right back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and our ongoing coverage of the death of the American embassy officials in Libya yesterday.

It's becoming increasingly clear that the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats was not a spontaneous uprising, that it was planned, according to U.S. officials, likely by a Libyan jihadist group affiliated with Al Qaeda. The question now, what impact will that attack have on the United States' relations with the emerging Libyan democracy that Chris Stevens helped to create?

And could Islamophobia in the United States and religious extremism in Arab countries subvert the Arab Spring?

Joining me now, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and CEO of the Cordoba Initiative, and author of "Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America;" and Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, and indeed, my husband.

Thank you both for being here.

Let me ask you this question that all Americans want to know, and obviously people in the region as well.

This attack, does this mean that the Arab Spring, its fundamentals are in jeopardy? Could it subvert what happened?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think so. I think it's a major blow to the American diplomatic community.

There hasn't been an assassination of an American ambassador in some 40 years like this, particularly this individual who really was someone associated with the uprising in Libya, was a great friend of the rebels in their early days and the making of him as ambassador was the crowning moment for the U.S.-Libyan relationship.

I hope and expect that because of his commitment to the U.S.-Libyan relationship that there will be a pause before Americans, American officials, American political figures somehow throw the Libyan success of overthrowing Gadhafi out with the bathwater of this terrible event.

AMANPOUR: So you have better sources than me. What do you make of these reports that are coming into CNN, that it wasn't necessarily a spontaneous protest launched by the anti-Islamic film, but that it was planned and that it could have been by an offshoot of Al Qaeda, and it was really a call from the second in command of Al Qaeda?

RUBIN: I -- from my understanding, I have spoken to someone who would know, we don't yet have evidence that this is connected to the protests about the film in the United States. The real Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the real Al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria and in Mali and in this area is not believed to be part of this.

But there are small pockets of extremist groups in this part of Libya and in a sense the fact that the embassy -- the consulate really wasn't a fortified compound and the fact that this was an RPG suggests that this wasn't a subject of elaborate planning with a massive explosive, but rather a target of opportunity, where a rather limited defended building was hit by the kind of weaponry that is now rife throughout Libya as opposed to a long-planned bombing of, say, a Navy ship in Yemen or the U.S. embassies in Africa or ultimately 9/11, but rather an event of using the opportunity of this uprising and perhaps planning with an RPG and which is essentially a small arm, a good small arm, but it's a small arm.

AMANPOUR: Apparently they set the building ablaze and according to officials, Ambassador Stevens potentially was killed by smoke inhalation.

But let me ask you, then, because obviously what happened in Egypt, it's a very strange series of coincidences. In Egypt yesterday, you had these protests about this film, that is by admission of the filmmaker himself, designed to be inflammatory, it's condemning Islam and it's mocking Islam.

What is happening in the United States and what should happen in the United States in terms of trying to put a stop to that? Or can it be such a thing?

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, FOUNDER, CORDOBA HOUSE: Well, this is why I've said repeatedly that the real battlefront is not between America and Islam or Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Jews, but between the -- all of the moderate justice-loving people, the good people, devout people against all the extremists, because we have extremists in all -- in all religious, and even atheists as well.

And what happens that when an extremist commits an act, it fuels this kind of a response. And you have this vicious circle.

So we, the moderates of all faith traditions, have to band together to coalesce together, build powerful coalitions on all fronts, governments, civil society, et cetera, to combat and stand as one against the extremists of all faith traditions. This is a -- this is the most powerful way to go forward.

I also want to point out to those who claim to -- that all this is done in the name of Islam, that Islam is very explicit. The Koran states explicitly that no soul shall be responsible for the sins or the crimes of another. And while this film is indeed offensive, and those who have done this have done this deliberately to offend Muslims, we should not kill innocent people.

And the majority of Arabs and Muslims in the world are grateful, as you know, we had the ambassador, we have an ambassador say how the government, the Libyan people are grateful to America for having gotten rid of Moammar Gadhafi, having gotten rid of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

And for these images to me as an American, as an American Muslim of our embassy and our flag being desecrated is just the wrong message that we have to send.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Clinton was very strong in her condemnation, as you said, no justification for this kind of violence whatsoever. And President Obama also talked about American as a land of tolerance. Let's play what he just said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence -- none. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.


AMANPOUR: So we sort of --

RAUF: Another point that I could say, Christiane, you know, for those Muslims, when attempts like this are made to make us angry and provoke us, that's exactly what these extremists want. So --

AMANPOUR: Plays into their hands.

RAUF: You're playing right into their hands by getting angry. The right response as a Muslim is to ignore them, to ignore these provocations and the Koran says, whoever tries to wrong you, the best response is to respond by a good action.

AMANPOUR: Jamie, obviously what's come out of Libya and Egypt and elsewhere has been a pleasant surprise in terms of the democracy, in terms of the elections, by and large they've been called free and fair. They were more successful than anybody hoped for in Libya. They've brought moderates to power. The same in Egypt and in Tunisia.

But there are these groups of Salafis. There are these radicals who don't want this Arab Spring to emerge democratically. What can be done, if anything, to neutralize them? These are the people who are fanning all these flames.

RUBIN: Well, ultimately, the United States has limited influence over the political debate within these countries. But we can help on the margins and we can certainly support those who believe in what we just heard, and that is that in Libya, we need to work more closely, perhaps with support, that we haven't provided before to the Libyan government, who really are our friends.

And I really suspect a really frankly not only embarrassed but horrified that their friend, Ambassador Chris, their -- the person who was with them at the most difficult moments has somehow now is dead.

Similarly, in Egypt, look, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will not be the first choice of an American government. But so far, President Morsi has done and said the right things. I think he -- it's important what he says now about these events that have coincided, of the murder of an American ambassador and the attack on our embassies.

And if he goes off and spends all his time on this ridiculous offensive film and not on the violence committed against the U.S. embassy in Egypt and the ambassador, then we're in for some trouble with Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Well, we haven't heard yet from President Morsi, but we have heard from the prime minister, the new prime minister, Hesham Kandil, and he condemned the film, as you can imagine, but he said that Egyptians must be peaceful in their protests. And he also said he hoped that the U.S. would take some action against this kind of incitement.

But this is what he told me the other day, when I interviewed him, after a high-level U.S. delegation had just been to Cairo, business and State Department officials, to try to really invest and get a stake in the new democracy, this is what he told me.


HESHAM KANDIL, PRIME MINISTER OF EGYPT: This is our region and we want to be a key player in this region. And I think it is for the best interest of everybody that we have a very strong relationship with United States of America.


AMANPOUR: So that must be very pleasing to hear.

RAUF: Of course, but I think we need -- we can do more, Christiane. I think the U.S. government needs to work with Muslim governments in the Muslim world, with Muslim leaders and in places like Oslo (ph) University, players who are considered important in the theological and jurisprudential line, to put out the messages, the right messaging, both to combat these extremists and to marginalize them and to remove the (inaudible), remove the support that they have on people.

Because it's very easy to fan and create a mob mentality. So I think there are ways in which we can create -- working strategically and tactfully together, both between the law enforcement agencies as well as the theological, et cetera, to combat this kind of --

AMANPOUR: And Jamie --

RAUF: happening.

AMANPOUR: -- from the U.S. point of view, we've got all sorts of statistics of Islamophobia that's on the rise in this country, unprecedented number of attacks, for instance, during the recent season of Ramadan here in the United States.

Does the United States also have to combat the extremism here?

RUBIN: Well, of course, I mean, we are a country where the word tolerance is built deeply into our system, and we have to make that true, both through law enforcement, through education, through -- we can defend somebody's right to speak, but that doesn't mean we can't condemn what they say.

And we have to be very, very clear on that. And we can't let the Arab Spring be hijacked by the extremists and remember that it's a good news story, positive development for the people of the Middle East.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Imam Feisal, Jamie, thank you very much indeed.

And we'll be right back with a final note after a break.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, amid this new state of crisis, imagine a world where in spite of extremism and senseless violence, democracy lives.

Tonight, right now, votes are being counted as Libya's General National Congress elects its new prime minister. Previously, the eight candidates went live on Libyan television, each presenting his case and answering questions. All of this only one year after the fall of Libya's long-time dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, and right after the terrible crisis in Benghazi.

As we said at the beginning of the program, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens went to Libya along with those other U.S. diplomats to help the people create their own democratic institutions. Only hours after his and his colleagues' tragic deaths, Libyans are doing just that.

That's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.