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Q&A: What You Need to Know About Benghazi Suspect’s Terror Group

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This is from The Daily Signal.

I am questioning the sudden capture of this terrorist..

 

As the vicious Islamist group ISIS upended the status quo in Iraq, another terrorist network — Ansar al-Sharia – broke into the headlines. Although relatively few Americans recognize it by name, the organization played a key role in an event that shook the nation: the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

Ahmed Abu Khattala, captured Sunday by U.S. special forces, is among leaders of the group accused of perpetrating the nearly nine-hour firefight that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, at the U.S. consulate and a nearby annex in Benghazi.

>>> Analysis: U.S. Captures Ringleader of Benghazi Attacks, Renewing Debate Over Terror Suspects

Now, with Khattala in U.S. custody and being brought to justice as an alleged mastermind of the deadly attacks, experts are re-examining the danger Ansar al-Sharia poses to America. To help Americans tune into the debate and what’s at stake,The Heritage Foundation’s authority on Middle Eastern affairs, James Phillips, answered five questions from The Daily Signal about the origins and threat of Ansar al-Sharia.

The Daily Signal: First off, who is Ahmed Abu Khattala?

Phillips: Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan, is Islamist extremist charged with leading the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. He is a native of Benghazi who reportedly spent most of his adult life in prison because of his Islamist activities. Khattala formed his own militia during the 2011 rebellion against Libya’s ruler of 42 years, Muammar Qadhafi, who was assassinated that October.

Khattala later joined an al-Qaeda-linked umbrella group that supports Islamic law, Ansar al-Sharia, a coalition of the most extreme Islamist revolutionaries that rejected the authority of the new Libyan government.

>>> Check Out:  What You Need to Know About ISIS in Iraq

Although Khattala has denied leading the attack on the Benghazi mission, Libyan eyewitnesses saw him give orders to the attackers and he showed up on at least one security camera at the mission on the night of the massacre. He is described as an eccentric and charismatic fanatic who welcomed the notoriety that reports of his role in the attack gave him in the eyes of fellow Islamist extremists.

Q: What makes this group, Ansar al-Sharia, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization?

A: Ansar al-Sharia is believed to be a front organization for al-Qaeda, but its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO, was prompted by its involvement in the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The group also is suspected of assassinating Libyan officials and citizens who opposed its extremist agenda.

Q: What exactly do they hope to accomplish?

A: Ansar al-Sharia is an Islamist revolutionary movement that uses terrorism to advance its radical agenda. It is far more than just a run-of-the mill terrorist group. It also performs the functions of a militia, a charity, a social service organization, a health care provider, a source of Islamic education and dawa(proselytization).

The organization seeks to provide services to Libyans as part of a “soft power” strategy to build popular support and make the transition from a movement into an embryonic government. It also aims to drive U.S. and western influence out of Libya, defeat its political rivals, and impose its harsh interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) on Libyans, by force if necessary.

Q: With the capture of Khattala, a ringleader, is Ansar al-Sharia still a threat?

A: Ansar al-Sharia is likely to continue operations after the loss of Khattala, a senior leader of the Benghazi branch. The vacuum may be filled by Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of the Derna branch, who trained in one of Osama bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet occupation, later worked for Bin Laden in Sudan, and fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bin Qumu was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, detained at our Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, transferred to Libya in 2007, and released from prison in Libya under an amnesty in 2010.

Ansar al-Sharia will remain a significant threat to Americans in Libya and the Middle East region, as well as to Libyans. It operates a network of camps for training Libyan and foreign militants and will want to exact vengeance for the arrest of one of its leaders.

Q: Why do you think Special Forces decided to go in and capture him now?

A: Khattala was identified early on as an alleged perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, but as the leader of a heavily armed militia, his capture posed high risks for U.S. law enforcement and special operations personnel. He also lived in a Benghazi neighborhood that contained a large number of Islamist militants.

Libya is a very dangerous place. To minimize risks to U.S. personnel and reduce the chances of collateral casualties, there were strong reasons to wait until Khattala could be captured with minimal fighting.  Delta Force commandos and FBI personnel carried out the raid within three days after President Obama approved it on Friday, according to the New York Times.

But what is not clear is why the president waited until Friday to approve the operation.  He could have given the go-ahead long ago and allowed the military to exercise its best judgment about when to execute the operation with minimal risks.

 

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A Deadly Mix in Benghazi

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This is from the New York Times.

The New York Slimes is trying to do damage control for

the Hildabeast Clinton in 2016.

Watch for more stories like this.

 

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
December 28, 2013

Benghazi, Libya

ABOYISH-LOOKING AMERICAN DIPLOMAT was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya’s most formidable militias.

It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.

“Since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now,” Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible.”

Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.

The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. Two days later, he summarized the meeting in a cable to Washington, describing a mixed message from the militia leaders.

Despite “growing problems with security,” he wrote, the fighters wanted the United States to become more engaged “by ‘pressuring’ American businesses to invest in Benghazi.”

The cable, dated Sept. 11, 2012, was sent over the name of Mr. McFarland’s boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Later that day, Mr. Stevens was dead, killed with three other Americans in Benghazi in the most significant attack on United States property in 11 years, since Sept. 11, 2001.

 The cable was a last token of months of American misunderstandings and misperceptions about Libya and especially Benghazi, many fostered by shadows of the earlier Sept. 11 attack. The United States waded deeply into post-Qaddafi Libya, hoping to build a beachhead against extremists, especially Al Qaeda. It believed it could draw a bright line between friends and enemies in Libya. But it ultimately lost its ambassador in an attack that involved both avowed opponents of the West and fighters belonging to militias that the Americans had taken for allies.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.

The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests.

In this case, a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, according to numerous Libyans present at the time. American officials briefed on the American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect. Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies. But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person C.I.A. station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation.

Mr. Abu Khattala, who denies participating in the attack, was firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias before and afterward. Many other Islamist leaders consider him an erratic extremist. But he was never more than a step removed from the most influential commanders who dominated Benghazi and who befriended the Americans. They were his neighbors, his fellow inmates and his comrades on the front lines in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.

To this day, some militia leaders offer alibis for Mr. Abu Khattala. All resist quiet American pressure to turn him over to face prosecution. Last spring, one of Libya’s most influential militia leaders sought to make him a kind of local judge.

Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.

Mr. Abu Khattala had become well known in Benghazi for his role in the killing of a rebel general, and then for declaring that his fellow Islamists were insufficiently committed to theocracy. He made no secret of his readiness to use violence against Western interests. One of his allies, the leader of Benghazi’s most overtly anti-Western militia, Ansar al-Shariah, boasted a few months before the attack that his fighters could “flatten” the American Mission. Surveillance of the American compound appears to have been underway at least 12 hours before the assault started.

The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

 The Benghazi-based C.I.A. team had briefed Mr. McFarland and Mr. Stevens as recently as the day before the attack. But the American intelligence efforts in Libya concentrated on the agendas of the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to Al Qaeda, several officials who received the briefings said. Like virtually all briefings over that period, the one that day made no mention of Mr. Abu Khattala, Ansar al-Shariah or the video ridiculing Islam, even though Egyptian satellite television networks popular in Benghazi were already spewing outrage against it.

Members of the local militia groups that the Americans called on for help proved unreliable, even hostile. The fixation on Al Qaeda might have distracted experts from more imminent threats. Those now look like intelligence failures.

More broadly, Mr. Stevens, like his bosses in Washington, believed that the United States could turn a critical mass of the fighters it helped oust Colonel Qaddafi into reliable friends. He died trying.

 

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