(Newsroom America) -- The White House and State Department both were advised within two hours following a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that an Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for it, a report said Wednesday.
Citing emails provided by unnamed government officials not associated with American intelligence agencies or the State Department, Reuters reported that a Libyan militant group calling itself Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
"The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington," Reuters said.
The emails are significant in that they directly refute claims made by President Obama and other White House officials for weeks after the attack that it was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic film posted by a California man in July.
Administration officials, including White House spokesman Jay Carney and Obama, did mention "extremists" in the same context of the attacks, they did not identify any groups or lay out other specifics.
According to Reuters, the first email was dated the night of the attack, on the anniversary of 9/11, at 4:05 p.m. Washington time, which was 10:05 p.m. Benghazi time. The email was sent 20 minutes after the attack began with the subject line, "U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi Under Attack." It contained the notation SBU - "Sensitive But Unclassified."
The text of the email said the Benghazi mission was "under attack. Embassy in Tripoli reports approximately 20 armed people fired shots; explosions have been heard as well."
"Ambassador Stevens, who is currently in Benghazi, and four ... personnel are in the compound safe haven. The 17th of February militia is providing security support," the message continued.
A second email, titled, "Update 1: U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi," came around 4:54 p.m. and said "the firing at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi had stopped and the compound had been cleared." It also said a "response team" at the site was attempting to recover missing personnel.
A third email was titled, "Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack." In the text, the message said, "Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli."
The morning after the attacks, Reuters and other news outlets were reporting that "members of both Ansar al-Sharia, a militia based in the Benghazi area, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of al Qaeda's faltering central command," may have been involved in the embassy attacks.
It's unclear how the revelations will play in the presidential election, which is less than two weeks away. Republicans have sought to capitalize on what they say has been misleading commentary from the president and his administration over what really happened to Stevens and the other three Americans.
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