Panetta on Benghazi: ‘If We Find Out Who the Perpetrators Were, We’re Going to Go After Them’

By Elizabeth Harrington | January 24, 2013 | 4:43 PM EST

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, gestures during a news conference at the Pentagon, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. (AP Photo)

( – Four months after the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “If we find out who the perpetrators were, we’re going to go after them.”

During a press briefing Thursday at the Pentagon about the decision to lift the ban on women in direct combat, a reporter asked Panetta for an update regarding the terrorist attacks in Algeria and in Benghazi.

“You and the president have said, both in the case of Benghazi and Algeria, that you would go after the perpetrators, that Americans were killed,” the reporter said.  “But how do you do that in North Africa when you have this mix that General [Martin] Dempsey is describing?  Can you—with respect—can you still promise that you’re going to get the perpetrators of these two incidents that killed Americans?”

If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

“Well, I can assure you, Barbara, that if we find out who the perpetrators were. we’re going to go after them,” Panetta said.

“And so that will be the first challenge, is to determine precisely who was involved here,” he said.  “Americans were killed and we don’t stand by when Americans were killed and not take action.”

“And we will,” Panetta said.

A four-day standoff at an Algerian natural gas plant ended last week between Islamic militants and Algerian Special Forces, resulting in the death of at least 37 international hostages, including three Americans.

On Sept. 11, 2012, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was also attacked by terrorists, leaving four Americans killed, including the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

A day after the attack on Benghazi, in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, President Obama assured the American people that we would “bring these folks to justice.”

“It’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans,” Obama said.  “And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”

Within hours of the attack on Sept. 11, the State Department received word by email that the Islamic militia group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility.

Four months later, the FBI continues its investigation, though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the agency is "following some very promising leads” during her testimony to Congress on Wednesday.

Clinton also revealed that she has spoken to only one of the five U.S. State Department diplomatic security agents who was evacuated from Libya after the Benghazi attack.

On Jan. 7, however, one suspect being held in Tunisia for the Benghazi attack was released, though he was interrogated by four FBI agents and a translator in Tunisia last month.

Panetta said Thursday that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has taken credit for the hostage crisis in Algeria, though the Pentagon is still unclear on who specifically was involved.

“But I have to tell you, we still—as of this moment—have not been able to look at the specifics of who was involved, who took place,” he said.  “We understand the Algerians are questioning two individuals that they were able to capture during this operation.”

“So we’re hoping that we’ll get better information and specifics to who were involved,” Panetta said.