American warships steamed towards Libya in the aftermath of the attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador and three others, U.S. officials said late Wednesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to "bring to justice" the Islamist gunmen responsible and the U.S. military moved two navy destroyers towards the Libyan coast, in what a U.S. official said was a move to give the administration flexibility for any future action against Libyan targets.
The military also dispatched a Marine Corps anti-terrorist security team to boost security in Libya, whose leader Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in a U.S.-backed uprising last year.
The attack, which U.S. officials said may have been planned in advance, came on the 11th anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
One destroyer, the USS Laboon, moved to a position off the coast Wednesday, and the USS McFaul is en route and should be stationed off the coast within days. The officials said the ships, which carry Tomahawk cruise missiles, do not have a specific mission. But they give commanders flexibility to respond to any mission ordered by the president.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said: "Without commenting on specific ship movements, the United States military regularly takes precautionary steps when potential contingencies might arise in a given situation. That's not only logical in certain circumstances, it's the prudent thing to do."
There have been four destroyers in the Mediterranean for some time. These moves will increase that to five.
The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss troop movements.
Libya makes ‘arrests’
Libya said it has made several arrests over the killing of the ambassador and three other U.S. nationals, the deputy interior minister told AFP news agency on Thursday.
“The interior and justice ministries have begun their investigations and evidence gathering and some people have been arrested,” Wanis al-Sharif said.
He declined to give any details of the number of people in custody or their backgrounds “so as not to hamper the smooth running of the investigation.”
The finger of blame initially fell on hardline Sunni Islamists of the Salafi group Katibat Ansar al-Sharia (Brigade of the Supporters of Sharia).
But in a statement Thursday, the group condemned “the accusations without any verification or investigation” which had emerged against it in the Libyan media.