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US told of Libyan attack claim

The White House was told that a militant group had claimed responsibility for the violence in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans, two hours after the US consulate came under attack, it has emerged.

A State Department email sent to intelligence officials and the White House situation room said the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and also called for an attack on the US embassy in Tripoli.

The document may fuel Republican efforts to show that the White House knew it was a terrorist attack, even as the US ambassador to the United Nations was saying - five days afterwards - that it appeared to be a protest gone wrong.

The Obama administration's account of the Benghazi events has become a campaign issue, with presidential challenger Mitt Romney and Republican politicians accusing the White House of misleading Americans about the nature of the attack. But militant groups often surface after such attacks claiming responsibility and it is difficult to immediately verify such claims.

News organisations obtained the unclassified email and two related emails from government officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak about them publicly.

The House of Representatives and Senate committees that oversee intelligence received a raft of documents from the Office of Director of National Intelligence on Monday, two congressional aides said.

Congressional staffers combing through the documents have found a kaleidoscope of sometimes conflicting intelligence, backing up much of what intelligence officials explained over the past several weeks. But members of both committees are still complaining that the original briefing they were given just after the Tuesday, September 11 attack differed markedly from the explanation CIA director David Petraeus gave them by the end of that week.

In that first briefing, just 12 hours after consulate was burned down, the intelligence committees received a report that it was a military-style assault, but just days later, Mr Petraeus stressed that militants had infiltrated a mob, a US official said. US intelligence officials have said Mr Petraeus outlined that extremists were believed to be in the crowd, and carried out the attack, and also stressed the picture was still evolving.

An intelligence official said on Wednesday that it was "clear from the outset that a group of people gathered that evening" but that it took until the week after the attack to determine "whether extremists took over a crowd or if the guys who showed up were all militants". The official said the briefing included the analysis that the "attacks that appeared spontaneous" but also mentioned possible links to regional al Qaida groups.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the review board she appointed to investigate the attack was "looking at everything", rather than "cherry picking one story here or one document there". She added, "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders."

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