A timely new report from the nonprofit International Crisis Group warns that Libya's internal disarray poses a significant threat to the safety and security of the country during its post-Arab Spring transition to democracy. The report, released Friday, arrives on the heels of the devastating assault at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, that left four American diplomats dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

"There is, of course, more than one way to look at the country today: as one of the more encouraging Arab uprisings, recovering faster than expected; or as a country of regions and localities pulling in different directions, beset by intercommunal strife and where well-armed groups freely roam," the ICG report says of Libya.

One of those "well-armed groups," the Islamic militant organization Ansar al Sharia, is suspected of being behind Tuesday's attack on the consulate, which involved rocket-propelled grenades and lasted four hours.

In the U.S., the Libya attack -- and ongoing anti-American protests in Egypt and other Islamic countries -- has set off a round of very public political wrangling between the campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. But in some pockets of the political world, another conversation has emerged, this one about the state of the still-evolving Arab Spring and what appears to be a spike in Islamic-fueled, anti-American violence across the region, even in a place like Benghazi, where the U.S. directly intervened to prevent a massacre during the revolution last year.

"Today, many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen?" said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during an emotional appearance at the State Department Wednesday morning to announce the deaths of her colleagues. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be."

For Clinton, as for key lawmakers like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the events are a clear sign of how important it is that the U.S. remain engaged in the region.

In a statement on Wednesday, the three senators said, “Despite this horrific attack, we cannot give in to the temptation to believe that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken. We cannot resign ourselves to the false belief that the Arab Spring is doomed to be defined not by the desire for democracy and freedom that has inspired millions of people to peaceful action, but by the dark fanaticism of terrorists."

But for many others analyzing the Arab Spring, "complicated" and "confounding" are the more enduring terms.

In Libya, as in Egypt and other places in the region undergoing fundamental transformations, the end of dictatorship has been a boon to freedom and civil society, but it is no panacea -- at least not yet, and not when viewed from near-term American interests.

"One of the other consequences [of the Arab Spring], now that societies are opening up, is that people can actually proselytize their interpretation of Islam," including the militant varieties, said Aaron Zelin, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who closely watches the spread of and discourse about Islamic radicalism. "It's happening across the whole region."

James Phillips, an expert with the Heritage Foundation who, for more than a year, has warned of the rising threat of militant Islam in places like Libya, sees the course of events much the same way: "On a policy level, I think it was a mistake to see the so-called Arab Spring as inevitably leading to democracy."

Certainly, security has diminished in much of the region. When the regime of Libya's dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, fell, as the ICG report notes, it brought down with it a major security apparatus and a powerful force against internal strife.

"Once the lid was removed, there was every reason to fear a free-for-all, as the myriad of armed groups that proliferated during the rebellion sought material advantage, political influence or, more simply, revenge," the report says.

Numerous other reports in the past year have made a similar point.

Human Rights Watch, which has closely reported on the decline in law and order in Libya over the past year, also commented that the attack in Benghazi "should be a wake-up call to the Libyan government on the need to rein in armed groups that have been defying the law in Libya."

Not all of the militias have necessarily worked against Libya's new government or the West. A curious detail in an Obama administration official's play-by-play of the assault on the Benghazi consulate included the moment, several hours into the battle, when a nearby militia described as "friendly to America" came to the aid of the beleaguered diplomatic security team.

But the rise of militias driven by Islamic fundamentalism has been a cause for concern dating back to the beginning of the uprising, when HuffPost reported that many outside observers worried about the role being played by dozens of anti-Gaddafi militia groups, many of whom had ties to jihadi groups that fought against the U.S. in places like Iraq.

Indeed, Libya, and particularly the areas around Benghazi, was home to a disproportionate number of the fighters who made up al Qaeda's foreign forces in places like Iraq, analysts say.

In a separate report last week, Human Rights Watch documented how many of the same jihadi fighters who had been considered terrorists, and tortured, by the U.S. -- before being turned over to the Gaddafi regime -- had since become American allies in the fight against his government.

Whether that means it was a mistake for the U.S. to side with these forces during the Libyan rebellion, or to have earlier helped suppress them, is perhaps the fundamental debate over U.S. policy in the changing region.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, argues that the role played by the U.S. in helping to remove Gaddafi has paid tremendous dividends in terms of popular support for the West.

"I don't think you can really use what happened [on Tuesday] to make a broader statement about how Libyans feel about the U.S. or to say that they're ungrateful," Hamid said. "It's certainly true that the Arabs don't like the U.S. pretty much everywhere else, but Libya is still the only country where they really like the U.S."

Indeed, across Benghazi on Wednesday, Libyans took to the streets to protest the attacks and offer public apologies for the death of an ambassador whom many activists had come to know personally. "Sorry Chris Benghazi couldn't save you," read one sign, held by a young man, that was widely circulated on Twitter.

"You have to be really careful" about inferring too much from the attacks, said Manal Omar, a Libya expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace who worked closely with revolutionary groups as they planned the post-Gaddafi transition to democracy.

"The other loss we've experienced today is a potential loss for Libya," Omar said. "Their track record has been very consistent for fighting against extremism. You really saw them consistently stand for a peaceful transition and promoting moderate Islam. This is the first blip in an otherwise positive track record."

Still, for some, the attacks have provided a small moment of reckoning about the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring.

In April last year, when Dan Murphy, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, traveled to the towns of eastern Libya, he found cause to hope that former jihadi fighters would embrace the U.S. for its support of their revolution. His article was titled, "Why the West need not fear Libya's Islamic warriors."

On Wednesday, Murphy linked to the story on Twitter and half-jokingly remarked, "Am I going to have to at some point pretend I didn't write this?"

Also on HuffPost:

Egypt's Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told CNN that some people involved in the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were paid to protest. He also said that some were there on their own accord, though.

For more on his comments, click here.

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Both Libyans and "foreigners" carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, said Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf.

"We have assumptions and we have some information, and all that information we have now leads to the same direction about the perpetrators, the criminals," he told NBC.

For more on Magariaf's comments, click here.

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A local security official walked CNN through the horrific attacks in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead. Read the report here.

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@ JomanaCNN : One senior official just told me they have no evidence yet to support President's statements that attack was pre-planned. #Libya

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From the AP:

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from posts in Sudan and Tunisia and is issuing travel warnings to American citizens in the two countries due to security concerns over anti-American violence.

"Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the State Department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens," said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.

To read more, click here.

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anti islam film

In this image from video provided by CBS2-KCAL9, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Cerritos, Calif. Nakoula, 55, was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. (AP Photo/CBS2-KCAL9)

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camp bastion

This image from AP video obtained from the SITE Intel Group posted by al-Emarah Jihadi Studio, an Afghan Taliban media unit who released two clips on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what the Taliban media unit says is an attack at the base. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group)

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According to an AFP report, a far-right group in Germany wants to screen 'Innocence of Muslims,' the film that sparked protests around the world, in Berlin.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel he would use every legal means at his disposal to stop them.

“Such groups and organizations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” he said, accusing them of recklessly pouring oil on the fire.

Read the full story here.

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libya attack

President Mohammed el-Megarif, fourth right, meets an unidentified Libyan guard of the U.S. Consulate who was wounded following the deadly attack on September 11, 2012, at Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo)

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Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority on Saturday condemned the attacks on U.S. embassies as un-Islamic, according to a report by Reuters.

"It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction," he said in a speech carried by state news agency SPA.

Read the full report here.

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@ AliTweel : 64 pictures from 12/09/2012 demonstration in #Tripoli against violence and condemnation of US consulate attack https://t.co/Q2CY4FFF #Libya

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Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore urged Muslims to refrain from violence on Saturday. From the AP:

Compaore, who is a convert to Islam, said that violence should not be the response of Muslims to provocations, even from the maker of the film of the Prophet Muhammad. Compaore described the filmmaker as a “brainless man who thinks he has the right to despise the religious feelings of others.”

Compaore deplored the street violence of recent days, saying the “credibility and greatness” of Islam is not through violence.

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"There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates. So long as I am commander-in-chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans."

Watch Obama's full remarks here:

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KHARTOUM, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Sudan has rejected a U.S. request to send a platoon of Marines to bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, the state news agency SUNA said on Saturday.

On Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would send Marines to Sudan to improve security at the embassy after protesters entered the mission in a demonstration against a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

"Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps," Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told SUNA. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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@ latimes : People linked to 'Innocence of Muslims' receive death threats, consultant says http://t.co/gSdQXFDp

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afghanistan protest

Afghans burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in Khost, south-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. A few hundred university students protested against an anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, shouting "death to America." (AP Photo/Nashanuddin Khan)

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From Reuters:

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack on a base which U.S. officials said killed two American Marines, saying it was in response to a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

Camp Bastion, in southern Helmand province, came under mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire late on Friday in an attack in which several servicemen were wounded.

"The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney on Saturday as demonstrations against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States spread to Australia.

Ten Network television news showed a policeman knocked unconscious as the mostly male crowd hurled bottles and other missiles. Many of the protesters were wearing Muslim dress.

Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we love Osama" and waved placards saying "Behead all those who insult the Prophet."

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party condemned an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the neighboring American school, saying such violence threatens the country's progress toward democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources.

The CIA has fewer people available to send, stretched thin from tracking conflicts across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Pope Benedict XVI appealed Saturday for religious freedom in the Middle East, calling it fundamental for stability in a region bloodied by sectarian strife.

Benedict spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. He arrived amid a wave of violent demonstrations over an anti-Islam film across the Muslim world.

"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the president palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Read the whole story here.

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From Reuters:

Clashes near the U.S. Embassy in central Cairo between police and Egyptians incensed over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad entered their fourth day early on Saturday, leaving one protester dead and dozens more injured.

The clashes moved to a main road on the banks of the Nile after authorities closed the street leading to the embassy. The protesters, many of whom are intent upon breaking into the embassy, now are seeking alternative routes to the site.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation".

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

A U.S. official says an elite Marine rapid response team is headed to Sudan in the wake of violence and protests against the embassy in Khartoum.

The deployment comes as Sudanese police opened fire on protesters trying to climb the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

Read the full story here.

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A 35-year-old protester was killed in the Egyptian capital on Friday as hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy clashed with police.

Read the full story here.

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U.S. officials say 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is being investigated for probation violations.

"A source with knowledge of the case confirmed that the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the film for violations of the terms of his release."

Read the full story here.

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AP video shows a group gathering to protest the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya:

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@ Reuters : Google rejects White House request to pull Mohammad film clip http://t.co/yi0s0288

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@ AP : BREAKING: US official says 2 Marines killed in attack on NATO base in Afghanistan

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"The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob," Clinton said on Friday at a ceremony for the Americans slain in Libya.

arab protests clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accompanied by President Barack Obama, speaks during a Transfer of Remains Ceremony, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Loading Slideshow...
  • India

    An Indian protester kicks at a graffiti of the American flag on a wall of the U.S. Consulate during a protest against the anti-Islam film, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in Chennai, India, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Arun Shanker K.)

  • India

    An Indian protester tries to break the glass window of the U.S. Consulate during a protest against the anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in Chennai, India, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Arun Shanker K.)

  • India

    Indian protesters shout slogans outside the U.S. Consulate during a protest against the anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in Chennai, India, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Arun Shanker K.)

  • India

    Indian policemen try to stop a protester from climbing a wall of the U.S. Consulate during a protest against the anti-Islam film, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in Chennai, India, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Arun Shanker K.)

  • India

    Indian protestors climb the wall of the U.S. Consulate during a protest in Chennai, India, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. The protest was held against an obscure movie made in the United States called "Innocence of Muslims" that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Arun Shanker K.)

  • Tunisia

    Tunisian protesters break the windows as they hold Islamic flags above the gate of US embassy in Tunis during a protest against a film mocking Islam on September 14, 2012. (FETHI BELAID/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Tunisia

    Tunisian protesters lower and burn a US flag as they replace it with an Islamic flag during a demonstration against a film deemed offensive to Islam, outside the US embassy in Tunis, on September 12, 2012. (KHALIL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Tunisia

    Tunisian protesters hold Islamic flags and Koran during a demonstration against a film deemed offensive to Islam, outside the US embassy in Tunis, on September 12, 2012. (KHALIL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Tunisia

    Demonstrators throw stones during a protest against the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" outside the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, as police respond with tear gas Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

  • Gaza City

    Palestinian Hamas supporters burn a U.S. flag during a protest in Gaza City, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

  • Egypt

    An Egyptian protester holds a placard criticizing the western "freedom of speech" during clashes with riot police, unseen, near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Egypt

    Egyptian youth protesters take cover behind barriers during clashes with security forces, unseen, near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Egypt

    Egyptian protesters evacuate an injured youth toward a waiting ambulance, unseen, during clashes with security forces, unseen, by the street leading to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Egypt

    An Egyptian protester throws back a tear gas canister toward riot police, unseen, behind cement blocks that are used to close the street leading to the U.S. embassy during clashes in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Egypt

    An Egyptian protester throws a stone toward riot police, unseen, during clashes close the street leading to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • An injured Egyptian youth protester takes cover behind a metal barrier during clashes with riot police, unseen, behind cement blocks that are used to close the street leading to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Egypt

    Two Egyptian protesters, one wearing the Guy Fawkes mask, clash with riot police, unseen, near the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

  • Sudan

    Sudanese women chant slogans during a protest in Khartoum, Sudan, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad.(AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

  • Sudan

    Sudanese protesters march in Khartoum, Sudan, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, against a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

  • Sudan

    Sudanese protesters and riot police face off during a protest outside the German embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, as part of widespread anger across the Muslim world about a film ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Germany's Foreign Minister says the country's embassy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum has been stormed by protesters and set partially on fire. Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters that the demonstrators are apparently protesting against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad.(AP Photo/Abd Raouf)