STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged yesterday that there may be a link between the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and al-Qaida's North African affiliate. That makes her the highest level official to publically link al-Qaida to the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Clinton's remarks came at the United Nations in New York. She's been there meeting with Arab leaders talking of boosting democracy and fighting extremism. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: At a meeting that focused on the crisis in the African nation of Mali, Secretary Clinton sounded the alarms about violent extremists who she says are destroying cultural sites, committing human rights abuses, and trying to impose what she calls their brutal ideology on the country.
SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: And nearly 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and four and-a-half million more are suffering from dwindling food supplies. This is not only a humanitarian crisis, it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore.
KELEMEN: But it's not only Mali that concerns her. A military coup toppled the president there and left a power vacuum. And now, Clinton says, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups have been launching attacks from northern Mali into neighboring countries.
CLINTON: Now, with a larger safe haven and increased freedom to maneuver, terrorists are seeking to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions. And they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa as we tragically saw in Benghazi.
KELEMEN: She did not give any further details on what role the al-Qaida affiliate may have played in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. A top counterterrorism official told Congress recently that the U.S. is looking into possible connections with Libyan militias. While the FBI continues its investigation, State Department officials have avoided answering any questions about the attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
On the campaign trail, Republicans have accused the Obama administration of initially downplaying the terrorist threat. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.