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Petraeus knew of terrorism link in Benghazi attack

Former CIA Director David Petraeus has said it was his intention to make clear early on that September's attack on a US diplomatic mission in Benghazi was terrorism. Lawmakers say questions remain over the affair.

Appearing Friday in a closed door hearing before the House and Senate Intelligence Communities, Petraeus told lawmakers that "there were extremists in the group" that carried out the attack, describing them as affiliates of al Qaeda and other groups, said Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersburger.

"The fact is he clarified it," said Ruppersburger, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Republican Representative Peter King said that Petraeus' account, given one week after he resigned his post because of an extramarital affair, differed from the one the retired General provided three days after the September 11 attack in Libya.

"He also stated that he thought all along he made it clear that there were [was] significant terrorist involvement, and that is not my recollection of what he told us on September 14," King said.

During the proceedings, lawmakers were shown real-time footage of the attacks, which included key moments of the assault. King and others have said they aim to declassify the 45-minute video.

Benghazi controversy

The attack on the US mission and the adjacent CIA compound in Benghazi that killed Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American officials has become a point of contention among Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration, in particular UN Ambassador Susan Rice, of deliberately misleading the public about what caused the attacks. Rice and other officials initially said they stemmed from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim film.

Since then, the Obama administration has said the event was a premeditated attack carried out by an al Qaeda-backed militia.

King said that unclassified talking points about the attack given to lawmakers, and apparently used by Rice, originally indicated specific al Qaeda involvement.

"The original talking points were much more specific about al Qaeda involvement," said King. "And the final ones just said, 'indications of extremists.'"

State Department and FBI probes into the affair are currently underway. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has agreed to testify before House and Senate hearings once her department finishes reviewing the event.

More questions

Lawmakers have said that while they appreciated Petraeus' testimony, questions remain.

"Many of my questions were answered. Many were not." said Republican Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

"We're past the election now," added McKeon. "I think it's time for them to lay it all out."

"We've still got to determine, number one, how did this group penetrate the facility that we had in Benghazi? And who were these folks?" asked top Senate Intelligence Committee Republican Saxby Chambliss. "We have a pretty good idea now, we're getting closer to determining that."

dr/ccp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)