Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a "terrorist attack" -- but the ongoing FBI investigation must determine which group was responsible for the deaths of ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American diplomatic personnel.
"The reason I think it pretty clearly was a terrorist attack is because a group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate and against our individuals," Panetta told a news conference on Thursday, alongside Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. "What terrorists were involved I think still remains to be determined by the investigation. But it clearly was a group of terrorists who conducted that attack against that facility."
Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for delaying to confirm the attack in Benghazi was carried out by terrorists on the anniversary of Sept. 11-- rather than a spontaneous strike amid misplaced backlash against an anti-Muslim film.
Despite some reports that intelligence officials knew within one day that the assault was a terrorist attack and suspected al-Qaida-linked elements were involved, Panetta insisted "it took a while to really get some of the feedback from what exactly happened at that location" in Benghazi.
Dempsey said there was a thread of intelligence reporting that groups in eastern Libya were seeking to coalesce, but he was not aware of any specific threat to the consulate before the attack.