Joan Neuhaus Schaan is a Fellow in Homeland Security and Terrorism at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. Her first involvement in the field of terrorism and homeland security came as an officer with the United States Naval Reserve in the mid-1990’s, where she served as an anti-terrorism training officer for her squadron and was responsible for the force protection briefings for deployments to the Americas and Pacific. She was appointed to the Texas Commission on Private Security by Governor George W. Bush in 1999, and was later reappointed by Governor Rick Perry.
Larry Bell: Joan, in our discussions you have pointed out that our Benghazi consulate which was attacked on 9/11 was being “guarded” by a militia with Muslim Brotherhood ties, and that the Al Qaeda-associated assailants may have used weapons provided to Libyan rebel militias with support from the U.S. Please provide some background.
The Muslim Brotherhood had been outlawed in Egypt prior to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and in its 80 year history it has been responsible for the founding of many foreign terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa named on the U.S. State Department list. Much of the Al-Qaeda senior leadership came from these same terror organizations.
The press has reported that U.S. support to the Libyan rebels was provided with the assistance of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and some portion was funneled through the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. I have not seen a report on the exact form U.S. support for the rebels took, but clearly at some point the support would have been translated into funding, intelligence, weapons and/or manpower from the U.S. and/or its partners.
For example, the European press reported that Qatar provided experts to help train fighters at a camp operated by a known member of Al Qaeda and the LIFG, Ismail Sallabi. A blogger reported that Ismail Sallabi was the founder of the Feb. 17th Brigade, and held meetings with NATO officials in Qatar. This would be the same Feb. 17th Brigade that provided the U.S. Benghazi consulate security. Press reports immediately after the September 11th attack indicated that LIFG was in contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood just prior to the consulate attack.
The military leader chosen by the post-Gadhafi transitional government was Emir of the Libyan al-Qaeda affiliate Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which was founded upon Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
The Muslim Brotherhood had intimate ties with the February 17th Brigade which was assigned to provide security for our Benghazi consulate. In fact, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood prime minister candidate, upon winning the election, had planned to have the February 17th Brigade commander become Minister of Defense.
And you believe that rebel organizations that benefitted from U.S. support may have had direct roles in the deadly attack?
Yes, there is a distinct possibility that the weapons, training and/or intelligence used in the assault that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Stevens, were obtained as a result of aid we provided to the Libyan rebels or relationships we had developed with the rebels. The U.S. played an integral role in assisting militant Islamists with taking control of a country rich in resources and in close proximity to Europe. Ultimately, these resources can be used to finance the extremist Islamist agenda. A similar scenario appears to now be playing out in Syria.
Joan, you also believe that the White House and CIA knew much about our dangerous partners before the attack?
That is clearly the case. As reported in the European press and in Wikileaks cables, Benghazi, and particularly near-by Derna, were well known strongholds for al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, and former U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz knew of the rebels’ Islamist tendencies from the onset. So when President Obama signed the secret order for the CIA to help the Libyan rebels, senior members of his administration must have known that their leader, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, had a long-time al-Qaeda affiliation, and also that many of the rebel military commanders were LIFG members. According to a New York Times interview, Belhadj had led fighting against U.S. troops in Iraq.
Incidentally, President Obama also signed a secret order to support rebels of a similar background in Syria. Libyans comprise one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters in Syria, and David Sanger has reported that most of the weapons are falling into the hands of the Islamists
And Ambassador Stevens was aware of all of this?
Chances are slim that he wasn’t aware of the circumstances. According to his resume published on the internet, Ambassador Stevens had been active in Libya since at least 2007, serving as Benghazi Deputy Chief of Mission, Interim Ambassador to Libya, Special Representative to the Libyan Transitional Government, and finally as Ambassador. The ambassador had monitored the status of Abu Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of the group that later killed him, upon his transfer from Guantanamo Bay to Libya, and Stevens is believed to have personally visited with Qumu when he was being held in a Libyan prison. Abu Sufian, a member of LIFG, had joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan where he was captured. Under pressure to release detainees, the Bush administration returned him to Libya to be imprisoned by Gadhafi, who also considered Al Qaeda a serious threat.
All of this obviously challenges any notion that the White House ever believed its own long-repeated talking points attributing the attack on our consulate to an anti-Muslim YouTube video protest in Cairo that spread to Benghazi.
As the Cairo protest was building on Sept. 10th, it was clear that the crowd was protesting the U.S. imprisonment of the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman who was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and provided the fatwa for the 9/11 attack in 2001…not about any video. President Mohamed Morsi, who replaced former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, had called for release of the Blind Sheikh in his inaugural address.
The brother of the Blind Sheikh, along with the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, participated in the protests that began on September 10th which resulted in the burning of the U.S. flag and hoisting of a jihad flag over the U.S. embassy in the early hours of Sept. 11th. News footage of the ensuing Cairo protests show banners honoring the Blind Sheikh in the background.
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