To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier.
And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, 20, a neighbor of the compound who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”
The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day.
The assailants approvingly recalled a 2006 assault by local Islamists that had destroyed an Italian diplomatic mission in Benghazi over a perceived insult to the prophet. In June the group staged a similar attack against the Tunisian Consulate over a different film, according to the Congressional testimony of the American security chief at the time, Eric A. Nordstrom.