In a special meeting Wednesday at the United Nations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to link Al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa to the attack on a US consulate in Libya earlier this month that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, The New York Times reported.
It was the first time Clinton has noted a possible link to the group, though she did not supply further details, the Times said.
The Times reported that Clinton made the comments during a meeting focused on the security crisis in the Maghreb and the Sahel in North Africa, where Mali in particular has been affected by violence from extremists.
"Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions,” Clinton said, according to the Times. “And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi."
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Clinton added that the US is "stepping up" counterterrorism efforts in the region, and working with Libyan authorities to precisely identify those who carried out the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi.
The nature of the attack on the US consulate has been a source of contention between the Obama administration and Republican politicians who believe it should be described as a terrorist strike and want more details of the investigation by the adminstration. Some Republicans claim that the White House has tried to downplay a threat that some believe heavier monitoring might have prevented.
Last week, the White House did use that language.
"It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” press secretary Jay Carney said Sept. 20.