US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Islamists who attacked a gas plant in Algeria got their weapons in Libya. She also blamed Northern Africa's security vacuum on the Arab Spring while testifying on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi.
"There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] have weapons from Libya," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Clinton said she was unable to weigh in on reports that some of the terrorists involved in the Algerian hostage crisis had played a part in the Benghazi attack.
Islamist militants seized the gas field near In Amenas, Algeria last Wednesday. Hundreds of hostages, including dozens of foreigners from various countries, were held captive for four days until Algerian special forces stormed the plant on Saturday.
Algeria's prime minister said 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed in the operation. Three US citizens were reportedly killed in the attack.
The Islamist 'Mulathameen Brigade' claimed responsibility for the hostage crisis, warning it would carry out similar attacks until Western powers end what it called an attack on Muslims in Mali.
Clinton also stressed how the 2010-2011 Arab Spring fostered the conditions in which the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, which resulted in the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, took place. She further drew a line between Libya and the ongoing conflict in Mali, which spurred an intervention by French forces earlier this month.
"Benghazi didn't happen in a vacuum," Clinton said. "The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. And instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria."
She remained adamant that US efforts to aid French forces in defeating Islamists in Mali should continue unabated, though Washington has so far limited aid to logistical support.
Russia, who backed a UN Security Council resolution on intervention in Mali but was staunchly opposed to NATO’s 2011 toppling of the Gaddafi regime, blamed the US and its allies for the current crisis in the West African state.
"Those whom the French and Africans are fighting now in Mali are the (same) people who overthrew the Gaddafi regime, those that our Western partners armed so that they would overthrow the Gaddafi regime," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference on Wednesday.
Saying that terrorist attacks had almost become a daily occurrence in the region, Lavrov reiterated:
“The situation in Mali seems the consequence of events in Libya. The seizure of hostages in Algeria was a wake-up call."
Clinton offered her first detailed account of the days following the Benghazi during the senate hearing.
"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters," an emotionally shaken Clinton said.
Clinton, who said the State Department implemented the 29 recommendations of an independent review board which found lower level officials responsible for the attack, said "I take responsibility."
The Accountability Review Board inquiry concluded that the State Department was woefully unprepared to deal with the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Citing “leadership and management” failures, poor coordination and an unclear chain of command in Washington, the probe did not personally blame Clinton.
Controversy surrounding the Benghazi attack had previously derailed UN ambassador Susan Rice’s chances of succeeding Clinton as secretary of state.
Rice was forced to withdrawal her name for the position after Republicans assailed her for repeating initial Obama administration talking points that characterized the attack as a spontaneous demonstration inspired by an anti-Islamic film produced in the US, rather than a coordinated assault.
Clinton, who fiercely sparred with Republican Senator Ron Johnson over the administration’s initial portrayal of the attack, said: “I was not focused on talking points” and “I wasn’t involved in the talking points process.”
Clinton rebuffed Johnson for insinuating the White House had attempted to mislead the American people over the motives of the attack, saying “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“What difference at this point does it make,” she continued.
Clinton framed the attack within a long history of violence and regional instability which affected her department, including the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis the bombing of American embassies in East Africa in 1998, and other incidents.
“Of course, the list of attacks foiled, crises averted, and lives saved, is even longer,” she said. “We should never forget that our security professionals get it right 99 percent of the time, against difficult odds all over the world.”