Clinton made her remarks at a special U.N. meeting on the poolitical and security crisis in the parts of North Africa known as the Maghreb and the Sahel, particularly in northern Mali, which has been overrun by Islamic extremists since a military coup helped lead to the division of that country this year. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has long operated in the region, she said, and was now exploiting a haven in Mali to export extremism and terrorist violence to neighbors like Libya.
“Now with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions," Clinton told leaders assembled at the meeting, including President Francois Hollande of France and the U.N. 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."
Ban called the meeting to lay the groundwork for a possible international military intervention — to be led by African troops — to help the new military government in Mali re-establish control over a part of the country that Hollande noted was the size of France and is now under the grip of Islamist extremists imposing their vision of law and order.
Top militia leaders in Benghazi have dismissed the possibility that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb played a role in the attacks or had a foothold in eastern Libya. Benghazi residents have said they believe the brigade that conducted the attack could not have managed the assault on its own, because it included more than 100 heavily armed fighters.
Clinton’s connection of the turmoil in the Sahel with the violence in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, echoed remarks made last week by Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.