Mrs. Clinton did not offer any new evidence of a Qaeda link, and officials later said the question would be officially settled only after the F.B.I. completed a criminal inquiry, which could take months. But they said they had not ruled out the involvement of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — an affiliate of the international terrorist group with origins in Algeria — in an attack the administration initially described as a spontaneous protest turned violent.
Her remarks added to the administration’s evolving and at times muddled explanation of what happened on the evening of Sept. 11 and into the next morning. Republicans in Congress have accused President Obama of playing down possible terrorist involvement in the midst of a re-election campaign in which killing Osama bin Laden and crippling Al Qaeda are cited as major achievements.
Mrs. Clinton made her remarks at a special United Nations meeting on the political 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 Qaeda 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.