(Newsroom America) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Wednesday that the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this month was likely the work of al Qaeda.
The admission comes after weeks of blaming the attack on an anti-Islam film trailer posted online by a California man in July. The attack in Benghazi left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others dead.
Clinton's assertion makes her the highest-ranking administration official to suggest a link between al Qaeda and the attack, "and her comments intensified what is becoming a fiercely partisan fight over whether the attack could have been prevented," The New York Times reported Thursday.
Earlier this week President Barack Obama, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, blamed the film trailer for inciting a spontaneous demonstration against the consulate, even though his own spokesman, Jay Carney, said last week the attack was a planned act of terrorism.
On Tuesday, in an interview with NBC News, Libyan President Mohammed Magarief said the film had "nothing to do" with the attack.
"Reaction should have been, if it was genuine, should have been six months earlier. So it was postponed until the 11th of September," he said. "They chose this date, 11th of September, to carry a certain message."
He added: "It's a pre-planned act of terrorism."
Clinton, in her remarks, did not offer any new information regarding the potential link but did say the question would be officially settled by the FBI when agents finished their investigation.
Clinton made her remarks at a special United Nations meeting on the political and security crisis in the parts of North Africa known as the Maghreb and the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali, the Times said. The region has been overrun with Islamic extremists following a military coup; al Qaeda has long operated there, Clinton told meeting participants.
"Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions," she said during the meeting, which included President François Hollande of France and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. “And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”
Republicans, including GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, have been extremely critical of the White House over the attack, saying the ambassador and his staff should have had more protection.
In his journal, which was found by a CNN crew earlier this week, Stevens had written that he was becoming increasingly concerned about threats posed by Islamic extremists in the region.
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