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Obama faces major challenges in dealing with Libya attack

Whether or not there were lapses in his administration, the attack on the US consulate in Libya happened on President Obama's watch. How he responds could impact the presidential election.

By Staff writer / September 15, 2012

The American flag flies at half-staff over the White House early Saturday, in honor of those who died when an angry mob stormed the U.S. Consulate in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi this week.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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President Obama faces two major challenges in the wake of the killing of a US ambassador and worldwide anti-US protests over an offensive anti-Islam video: Explaining how the violent and apparently coordinated attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya – possibly linked to Al Qaeda – was allowed to occur; and responding diplomatically and militarily in ways that prevent further attacks.

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That the challenges come less than two months before a presidential election that’s pivoted from its largely economic theme to national security and terrorism makes Obama’s situation all the more difficult.

Protests against the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” continued to expand Saturday to some 20 nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. Most were peaceful, but the protests turned into assaults on US and other Western embassies in Sudan and Tunis, and violent clashes with police in several countries left at least six dead, the Associated Press reported.

If Al Qaeda has yet to be proved responsible for Tuesday’s attack in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US embassy personnel – as many analysts and officials suspect – the terrorist organization moved quickly to take advantage of the highly volatile situation.

"What has happened is a great event, and these efforts should come together in one goal, which is to expel the embassies of America from the lands of the Muslims," the Yemen-based group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said in a statement Saturday, calling on protests to continue in Muslim nations "to set the fires blazing at these embassies."

More to the point, perhaps, AQAP also said the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was in retaliation for the killing in a US drone strike earlier this year of Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al Qaeda’s then-number two.

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