WHITE HOUSE — The Obama administration on Thursday called last week’s assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya a terrorist attack. This is the first time that White House officials have called the incident a deliberate attack, rather than a part of protests against a video that many Muslims consider offensive.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters it was “self-evident” that the September 11 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi was a “terrorist attack.”
A short time later, President Barack Obama said that protests over a video that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad were used as a pretext for a planned strike against Americans.
“What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests. Well, we do not know yet. And so we are going to continue to investigate this,” Obama said.
The president said Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries have cooperated fully with the United States in the investigation.
The statements by the president and his spokesman were similar to what National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told a Senate committee on Wednesday. Olsen said the incident was “an opportunistic attack” that “evolved and escalated over several hours.”
The assault, which killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, took place on the 11th anniversary of the al-Qaida attacks that killed several thousand people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
President Obama was speaking Thursday in a question-and-answer forum on the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision, in Miami, Florida.
He faced several pointed questions from Hispanic Americans about his inability to push comprehensive immigration reform legislation through Congress.
The president said opposition Republicans would not cooperate on his efforts to update immigration laws, and that he was forced to spend most of his time dealing with the financial crisis.
But Obama said he has taken administrative efforts to allow some young people who came to the United States illegally to avoid being deported.
“I have never wavered in my support of comprehensive immigration reform. We did put forward a “Dream Act” that was passed in the House [of Representatives], got the overwhelming majority of support from Democrats in the Senate, and was blocked by the Republican Party,” Obama said.
When asked about some 5 million deportations conducted during his administration, the president said he is following the law and is concentrating on those who would pose a danger to Americans.
“We have to focus our attention, our enforcement, on people who genuinely pose a threat to our communities, not to hard-working families who are minding their own business and oftentimes there are members of the family who are U.S. citizens,” Obama said.
Florida is the fourth-largest of the 50 U.S. states in population, and experts say it is the largest of the swing states, where the November 6 election will likely be decided.