An elite unit of Marines and two warships were headed toward Libya last night
as the Obama administration probed whether the deadly assault on the U.S.
Consulate in Benghazi was a premeditated, al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist plot to
mark Sept. 11.
The USS Laboon, a destroyer, was off the Libyan coast yesterday and the USS McFaul will be there in days, while about 50 Marines headed to Tripoli, the capital, to secure U.S. facilities.
The storming of the consulate and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans was initially thought to be the result of a spontaneous riot over a movie ridiculing Muhammad. But a U.S. counterterrorism official said the offensive was "too coordinated or professional."
The Benghazi assault "is going to put it all into question," said Boston University international relations professor William Keylor. "We have obviously supported the new Libyan government 100 percent. Now, Congress is going to be asking some serious questions about it, and the American public is going to ask: Do we want to be supporting a government that may possibly be coming under the influence of these forces?"
Muslim leaders' reaction could determine how the U.S. responds long-term, Keylor said. Condemnation could help isolate the extremists. Silence could help anti-American sentiment spread, and make Americans less willing to continue supporting Egypt and Afghanistan.
U.S.-Libya affairs scholar Ronald Bruce St. John said the attack was "a terrible setback" to efforts to launch Libya's new government -- particularly with yesterday's parliamentary election of a veteran Moammar Gadhafi opposition leader as prime minister: "These were good people working to help establish a functional democracy in Libya. They had the support of a large majority of the Libyan people, and it's just such a tragedy that it occurred at this time."
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda released a video yesterday of an elderly American Peace Corps volunteer kidnapped in Pakistan over a year ago, claiming President Obama and the U.S. "have shown no interest in my case" and pleading with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "as one Jew to another" to rescue him. Also, the White House was denying speculation late Tuesday that a rift is growing with Netanyahu over what to do about Iran, which is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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