WASHINGTON — In the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the Obama administration received intelligence reports that Islamic extremist groups were operating training camps in the mountains near the Libyan city and that some of the fighters were ‘‘Al Qaeda-leaning,’’ according to US and European officials.
The warning was part of a stream of diplomatic and intelligence reports that indicated that the security situation throughout the country, particularly in eastern Libya, had deteriorated sharply since the United States reopened its embassy in Tripoli after the fall of Moammar Khadafy’s government in September 2011.
By June, Benghazi had experienced a string of assassinations as well as attacks on the Red Cross and a British envoy’s motorcade. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the September attack, e-mailed his superiors in Washington in August alerting them to ‘‘a security vacuum’’ in the city.
Republicans, led by their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have sought to lay blame for the attack on President Obama, who they argued had insufficiently protected US lives there. But interviews with US officials and an examination of State Department documents do not reveal the kind of smoking gun Republicans have suggested would emerge in the attack’s aftermath.