clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Were the attackers angry about an anti-Islam movie?

The CIA initially believed that the attack was inspired by The Innocence of Muslims, a very cheap YouTube movie by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Kashmiri Muslim students during a protest against a low-budget US film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed on September 15, 2012, in India. Hundreds of students held a massive protest demonstration against the “Innocence of Muslims.”
Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Yes and no. The CIA initially believed that the attack was inspired by The Innocence of Muslims, a very cheap YouTube movie by certified sketchy dude Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a US citizen and Egypt-born Coptic Christian with a history of anti-Islam activism. The video portrays Muslims in general, and the prophet Muhammed in particular, as murderous monsters with a taste for Christian blood.

Innocence Of Muslims
Case in point.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

Though Innocence was never finished, Nakoula uploaded 14 minutes of clips to YouTube. The Egyptian media translated the clips and broadcast them on September 8, sparking about 40 protests around the world, almost all of them against US diplomatic facilities. There’s some evidence that militants were driven to join the attack out of anger at the video, although whether they were at all motivated by the film or just exploited it as an opportunity still isn’t clear.

However, the intelligence community’s initial theory — that the Benghazi grew out of a protest about Innocence — turned out to be false. Evidence from a number of sources, including closed circuit video of the attacks, convinced the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies that the militants showed up specifically to attack the mission, rather than to simply protest outside of it.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.