Updated at 6:37 p.m. ET: An anti-Islam film that sparked violent protests in many countries had "nothing to do with" a deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi earlier this month, Libya's president told NBC News.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News' Ann Curry, President Mohamed Magarief discounted claims that the attack was in response to a movie produced in California and available on YouTube. He noted that the assault happened on Sept. 11 and that the video had been available for months before that.
"Reaction should have been, if it was genuine, should have been six months earlier. So it was postponed until the 11th of September," he said. "They chose this date, 11th of September to carry a certain message."
Magarief said there were no protesters at the site before the attack, which he noted came in two assaults, first with rocket-propelled grenades on the consulate, then with mortars at a safe house.
The attack took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens, as well as information management officer Sean Smith and security personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Magarief told Curry that based on the accuracy of the assault, he believes the attackers must have had training and experience using the weapons.
"It's a pre-planned act of terrorism," he said, adding that the anti-Islam film had "nothing to do with this attack."
Though Magarief believes the attack was the work of Islamist fundamentalists, he dismisses any notion that Libya is in danger of becoming a theocracy.
“This will never happen,“ he said. “ They don’t have the strength. They don’t have the supporters. They will remain a minority that’s isolated, that will not be accepted by us. And I’m sure Libyans will fight to the last man against seeing this happen in our land.”
'A strong friend'Magarief said that while Libyans appeared to be behind the attack that "these Libyans do not represent the Libyan people or Libyan population in any sense of the word."
He added: "We consider the United States as a friend, not only a friend, a strong friend, who stood with us in our moment of need."
More than 40 people have been questioned in connection with the incident, the Libyan leader told Curry.
He described Stevens as a "humble and very unique human being" and a "great friend of Libya."
The Obama administration initially maintained that the attacks were directly linked to protests over the film. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said: “What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.”
However, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last week said it was "self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack."
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said: “There are no words that excuse the killing of innocent” people.
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