After a Wednesday of confusion, tension, and declarations that offered condemnation and condolence but little in clarity, more questions than answers hang over the attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi, a "safe house", and the car carrying the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
We know that Stevens and three other Americans are dead and five wounded. We know that at least two Libyans were killed. We know that the violence leading to the deaths started with the intersection between a protest outside the Consulate over a US-produced film on the Prophet Muhammad and attackers, some of them armed with rocket-propelled grenades, intent on storming the building.
But then all become dangerously muddled. The exact timing and circumstances around the assault on the Consulate, the attack on the "safe house" where US security forces from Tripoli had arrived to escort Consulate staff, and the rocket fire on Stevens' car are unclear.
Whether the raid on the Embassy, and indeed the safe house, was planned before the furour over the film --- and if so, who launched that planning --- is also unknown. In that vacuum, think tanks disguising speculation as "analysis" put out the spectral explanation that Al Qa'eda had retaliated, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks of 11 September 2001, for the killing of its deputy head this spring. CNN quickly picked up that line as near-certain insight, and other outlets from Reuters to the BBC have followed.
Questions gather over the amateur film, "The Innocence of the Muslims", that was the spark and/or the pretext for the attacks. "Sam Bacile", the "California real estate developer" who was identified at dawn on Wednesday as the man behind the production, evaporated during the day, as did his "100 Jewish donors" who had provided the $5 million for the project. While we know some of the people associated with the film, such as right-wing activist Steve Klein, we do not if "Sam Bacile" is a pseudonym or even a myth covering up the people and groups who really generated the production.
Most importantly, we do not know --- but I fear --- what comes next. In his White House statement on Wednesday, President Obama was careful to point to the majority of Libyans --- Libyans who had fought alongside the besieged Americans, Libyans who had rescued Stevens and took him to hospital, Libyans who tried to save his life --- as people who had overthrown a dictatoral regime and were trying to build their country.
But this, as well as the emphasis of Obama and Clinton on respect for all religions --- religions tarnished and undermined in the name of religion by extremists and schemers in the US and in Libya --- appears to have been put on the margins this morning. Instead, the headline is "Obama Vows Justice for Libya Killers".
It is not quite the "Wanted: Dead or Alive" motif of George W. Bush that would turn the deaths of 9-11 into the war in Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq, but it still converts the actions of a few into the blanket finger-pointing at an entire country in which some group, menacing not only in that country but around the world in its threat to American "national security".
That way, a year after Libyans gathered to celebrate the fall of Muammar Qaddafi and to hope for a country beyond violence and the authoritarian, does not lead to reconciliation and progress. That way leads to force to meet force, to death to counter death. That way does not lead to security but to insecurity.