Clinton, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday to defend the State Department's budget, noted that many Al Qaeda activists detained in Afghanistan and Iraq 'came from Libya and came from eastern Libya, which is now the so-called free area of Libya'.
'One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia,' Clinton said.
Somalia has been in crisis, without a functioning central government, since the early 1990s, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by militant Islamist groups like the al-Shabaab group, which is closely linked to Al Qaeda.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has insisted over recent days that the insurrection against his government is led by Al Qaeda, and rejects the suggestion that it is a popular, democracy-driven uprising. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed by Gaddafi's forces, human rights groups say.
Clinton rejected suggestions by senators that the US should move quickly to support a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gaddafi from bombing protesters. She noted the uncertainty about 'who is legitimate, who is not,' saying it was premature 'to recognize one group or another'.
The US only set up its embassy in 2009, after decades of disrupted diplomatic relations, further handicapping Washington's knowledge of what is going on in the country.
'It's important to recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the motives, the opportunism, if you will, of people who are claiming to be leaders right now,' Clinton told the Senate. 'I think we have to be focusing on the humanitarian mission and then gathering information as we can.'
While US officials say no options have been taken off the table, top defence officials Tuesday said enforcing a no-fly zone similar to the one in place over Iraq in the 1990s would be extremely complex and difficult.
'We also have to think about, frankly, the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East,' Defence Secretary Robert Gates told Congress