5 Nagging Questions About the Libya and Egypt Embassy Attacks

Why, for example, did the Egyptian president wait 24 hours to say anything about the protests storming the U.S. embassy?

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The damaged U.S. consulate building in Benghazi, Libya (Reuters)

1. The Obama administration now says it suspects the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi may have been pre-planned and not directly linked to the film protests. Intelligence reports suggest it's even possible the attackers "generated the protests as a cover for their attack," according to the New York Times. Did they engineer the protests or simply exploit them?


2. Who actually pulled off the Libya attack, anyway? The "chief suspect" is an obscure extremist Islamist group called "the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades," according to CNN, citing U.S. intelligence. The Libyan group, which has surfaced only this year, appears to support al-Qaeda, but it's not clear if there are any direct operational links. Earlier reports cited Ansar al-Sharia, a loose network of Libyan extremists. The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. blamed former fighters for Muammar Qaddafi's staunchly anti-Islamist regime.

3. Who is "Sam Bacile," the possibly fake name used by the director-producer of Innocence of Muslims, the outrageously offensive film that started it all?

4. Why did "Bacile" tell the Wall Street Journal that he is Israeli-American (which, it turns out, may be false) and had funded the film with donations from "about 100 Jewish donors"? Why does a consultant who worked with "Bacile" seem to think that he is connected to Evangelical and Coptic Christians?

5. Maybe the most curious of all: Why did it take Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi until 7 p.m. this evening Cairo time, about 24 hours after Egyptians stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Cairo and pulled down the American flag, to issue any public statement? Why put it out on Facebook? Why, when his Libyan counterparts had so quickly and categorically condemned the (admittedly much more severe) attack in their own country, did Morsi follow so much more slowly and using such tepid language? Why, for that matter, did Reuters report at about 11 p.m. Tuesday night east coast U.S. time, many hours before Morsi's Facebook statement, that Egyptian state media was saying Morsi had asked his embassy in Washington to "take legal action" against the American filmmakers?

OK, that last one is actually several questions, but you get the point. Of all of the things we still don't know about yesterday's violence and its aftermath, the machinations of the young new Egyptian government may be the most confusing.

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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