So the Benghazi Attacks Were Motivated by the Video After All?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


From a New York Times article today about the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, believed to be one of the leaders of the Benghazi attacks:

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.

I’m a little puzzled. The story is by David Kirkpatrick, with additional reporting from Suliman Ali Zway in Tripoli. Kirkpatrick has written extensively about Benghazi, and he has suggested before that the “Innocence of Muslims” video did indeed motivate some of the attackers. But as far as I know, he’s never reported that Abu Khattala explicitly said that the video was his motivation. That makes this new and important reporting, but it’s casually buried in the 18th paragraph of today’s story—as if it’s old news that’s merely being repeated for this profile of Abu Khattala.

Maybe I just missed it before. But if this is truly new reporting, I’d sure be interested in knowing who the sources are and why they’ve never told us this before.

UPDATE: It turns out that Kirkpatrick has indeed reported this before. On October 18, 2012—five weeks after the Benghazi attacks—he wrote a profile of Abu Khattala that included this:

Mr. Abu Khattala, 41, wearing a red fez and sandals, added his own spin. Contradicting the accounts of many witnesses and the most recent account of the Obama administration, he contended that the attack had grown out of a peaceful protest against a video made in the United States that mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.

This seems to have escaped everyone’s attention, including mine, but apparently it’s nothing new. Abu Khattala has claimed all along that the video was one of the motivations for the attacks.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest