Libya's Ambassador to Washington Ali Aujali said Wednesday that associates of disposed tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi were behind the Tuesday attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four American officials, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
"We know that Qaddafi's associates are in Libya. Of course, they took this chance to infiltrate among the people," Aujali said in today in an interview. His claim contradicts most reports, which place the blame on radical Islamist groups that claimed to be reacting to an obscure American film they viewed as insulting to Islam.
Aujali said that the Libyan government has intelligence that unspecified Qaddafi forces were involved.
"I think it is not clear who [the attackers] are exactly but I am sure they were infiltrated by these people. They still have money. They still have support in countries like Tunisia and Mauritania and other countries who work together with them and finance these kinds of terrorists attacks."
His claim was viewed with skepticism in Washington, where analysts said Aujali's statements fit a pattern of the Libyan government refusing to confront the hundreds of militias that remain powerful, heavily armed, and beyond the reach of the law.
"The Libyan government has been blaming amorphous pro-Qaddafi elements for everything that goes wrong in their country," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "It's a way of denying the hard truth that the biggest threat they face to their hopes for democracy and the rule of law comes from among their own fellow former revolutionaries."
The Libyan government has failed to respond to a series of provocations by these groups, Malinowski said.
"The responsibility for this crime falls squarely on the people who perpetrated it and on the Libyan authorities, who have failed thus far to rein in armed elements that defy the law in Libya with impunity, whether by destroying Sufi shrines, attacking aid groups, or now murdering a U.S. ambassador," he said. "The majority of Libyans are not responsible for this, but they are responsible for stopping it by confronting these armed groups once and for all."
Aujali also said that the Libya government didn't have any direct advance knowledge of the attack and pledged that the Libyan government would work closely with the U.S. government to investigate the incident.
Aujali emphasized that the Libyan people are grateful for American support and he expressed confidence that the U.S.-Libya relationship would be maintained.
The Libyan government's failure to protect the consulate is due to a lack of resources and progress in rebuilding the security infrastructure in Benghazi, he said.
"Qaddafi left no intstitions. We have no army, no police forces. We have to build everything from zero, unfortunately. We still need some time," he said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.