"The film has just become a smoke screen," said Duke Islamic Studies Professor Ebrahim Moosa.
Moosa believes someone or some group used an amateur film mocking the prophet Mohammed to build a crowd around the U.S. consulate to divert attention from a sinister plan.
"Behind the smoke screen of protest, there were people ready with rocket propelled grenades," said Moosa.
Even though the U.S. is working to determine whether it had anything to do with the 9/11 anniversary, Moosa said the fingerprints point to terrorism.
"In time, we will know whether they were state actors or non-state actors behind this," said Moosa.
"It's very tragic," said former Venezuelan Ambassador Patrick Duddy, "very, very tragic."
Duddy, who currently lectures at Duke, said the group was likely not specifically targeting U.S. diplomats.
"They were not reacting to the consulate and the diplomatic officers because they were the authors of the insult, but rather they were the representatives of the country and culture from which they believe an insult had come," said Duddy.
However, Moosa said Ambassador Chris Stevens played a crucial role when the U.S. and NATO launched an offensive in Libya and ousted Muammar Gaddafi.
"It seemed that the timing was quite important," said Moosa. "So, I think there were people trying to send a signal to the U.S. in terms of vulnerabilities."
What lies ahead is a potential diplomatic minefield. Moosa said if the U.S. doesn't exercise enough restraint in responding, we could lose sight of what nearby nations like Syria and Iran are doing. He also said an overreaction could incite Islamic hate groups to retaliate against American Muslims.