Why Was a Key Benghazi Suspect Free?

harzi1Weekly Standard, by Thomas Joscelyn, June 23, 2015:

On Monday, the Pentagon announced that Ali Ani al Harzi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Mosul, Iraq. For those who have followed the public reporting on the September 11, 2012, Benghazi attack  closely, al Harzi’s name will ring a bell. He was one of the first suspects to be publicly identified by name. Eli Lake, then of The Daily Beast, got the scoop in October 2012.

A key question in al Harzi’s story remains unanswered: Why wasn’t he in custody since late 2012?

U.S. intelligence officials discovered early on in their investigation that al Harzi used social media to provide an update on the raid. It was based on this freely-available intelligence that al Harzi was detained in Turkey and deported to his native Tunisia.

In December 2012, the FBI was granted only a few hours to question al Harzi. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, the al Qaeda-linked group responsible for the September 14, 2012 assault on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis, stalked the FBI agents who questioned him. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia posted the FBI agents’ pictures on Facebook. This was intended to intimidate the FBI agents.

The following month, January 2013, a judge in Tunis ordered al Harzi released.

Senior Obama administration officials, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Brennan, who was about to become the head of the CIA, were asked about this during Congressional testimony at the time. Both of them vouched for al Harzi’s release.

On January 23, 2013, Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She told senators that the Tunisians had “assured” the United States that Harzi was “under the monitoring of the court.”

“Upon his release, I called the Tunisian prime minister. A few days later Director Mueller met with the Tunisian prime minister,” Clinton explained. She continued: “We have been assured that he is under the monitoring of the court. He was released, because at that time — and — and Director Mueller and I spoke about this at some length — there was not an ability for evidence to be presented yet that was capable of being presented in an open court. But the Tunisians have assured us that they are keeping an eye on him. I have no reason to believe he is not still in Tunis, but we are checking that all the time.”

During a separate hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, then Congressman Tom Cotton asked Clinton if she found “it distressing that the Tunisian government has released that gentleman [al Harzi] in light of the hundreds of millions of dollars of aid we’ve given them over the last two years?”

Clinton responded: “At this point, Congressman, I do not for two reasons. First, I had a long conversation with high-ranking Tunisian officials about this, as did Director Mueller of the FBI when he was there in person. We have been assured there was an effort to have rule of law, judicial process, sufficient evidence not yet available to be presented, but a very clear commitment made to us that they will be monitoring the whereabouts of the — Harzi and we’re going to hold them to that and watch carefully.”

Obviously, the Tunisians’ assurances didn’t pan out. In fact, the Tunisian government accused al Harzi of participating in the assassinations of two prominent politicians. One of them was killed on February 6, 2013, just weeks after al Harzi was released. And al Harzi was, quite obviously, able to travel from North Africa to the heart of the Middle East on behalf of the terrorist organizations he served.  The Pentagon says he was working for the Islamic State at the time of his death.

In February 2013, Brennan echoed Clinton’s claims regarding the evidence against al Harzi. Brennan told Congress that the US government “didn’t have anything on” al Harzi and, therefore, his release was not worrisome.

The argument made by Clinton and Brennan – that there wasn’t sufficient evidence against al Harzi and/or the available evidence couldn’t be introduced in court – doesn’t make sense.

First, the initial evidence against al Harzi came from his social media postings – this isn’t the type of intelligence that needs to be excluded from court proceedings. Second, the U.S. government had enough on al Harzi to have him detained in Turkey, deported to Tunisia, and then questioned by the FBI. To say, as Brennan did, that the U.S. government “didn’t have anything” at all al Harzi is clearly false.

Third, the reaction of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia to al Harzi’s imprisonment was quite telling. Again, the group that had just ransacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunis agitated for al Harzi’s release. Al Harzi was a member of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, which the State Department subsequently designated as a terrorist organization for, among other things, its ties to al Qaeda’s international network. Fourth, al Harzi had already built a dossier of terrorist connections prior to the 9/11/12 attack. He had been detained and imprisoned “for planning terrorist acts in 2005 in Tunisia.” And his brother was also a known facilitator for al Qaeda in Iraq, demonstrating that jihadism was quite likely the family’s business.

Perhaps most importantly, al Harzi’s ties to the Benghazi attack have never really been disputed. In April of this year, the UN’s al Qaeda sanctions committee added al Harzi to its list of sanctioned individuals. The UN’s designation page reads: “Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012.”

According to the Pentagon, justice has finally been served in Ali Ani al Harzi’s case.

But we are left to wonder: Why did it take so long?

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Also see:

Terrorism in Africa: The Imminent Threat to the United States

Ansar al Sharia recruits receive training at a camp near Benghazi.

Ansar al Sharia recruits receive training at a camp near Benghazi.

Long War Journal, April 29, 2015:

Editor’s note: Below is Thomas Joscelyn’s testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on the threat posed by jihadist groups in Africa. 

In preparing today’s testimony, I reviewed the history of al Qaeda’s plotting against the West. A number of facts demonstrate that al Qaeda’s presence in Africa has been tied to these efforts. For instance, declassified documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that he ordered al Qaeda’s branches in Africa to select candidates capable of striking inside the U.S. Bin Laden also ordered al Qaeda’s African branches to coordinate their work with his “external operations” team, which was responsible for plotting attacks against Western interests. Some of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders, including those who have overseen al Qaeda’s planned attacks in the West, have come from Africa. Senior al Qaeda leaders embedded in Shabaab have also trained operatives to attack in Europe. I discuss this evidence in detail in the final section of my written testimony.

Complex tribal, ethnic, and religious dynamics mean that any summary of the situation in Africa will be necessarily incomplete.  However, I will attempt to distill some themes that are important for understanding the rising jihadist threat in the continent. While there are important differences between ISIS and al Qaeda, and the two are at odds with one another in a variety of ways, they are both inherently anti-American and anti-Western. Thus, they constitute a threat to our interests everywhere their jihadists fight.

Since the beginning of the year, the ISIS branch in Libya has repeatedly attacked foreign interests. The group has bombed and/or assaulted with small arms the Algerian, Moroccan, Iranian, South Korean and Spanish embassies in Tripoli. Fortunately, these attacks have caused only a few casualties, as foreign governments pulled most of their diplomatic personnel out of Libya months ago. But these incidents show the organization’s followers are deeply hostile to any foreign presence.

Other ISIS attacks on foreigners in Libya have been more lethal and at least two Americans have been killed by ISIS’ so-called “provinces.” In January, the group’s fighters launched a complex assault on the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli. Ten people, including David Berry, a former U.S. Marine serving as a security contractor, were killed. In August 2014, jihadists from the ISIS province in the Sinai killed William Henderson, an American petroleum worker.

Some of ISIS’ most gruesome acts in North Africa have come with pointed threats against the West. In February, the jihadists beheaded 21 Egyptian Copts. The propaganda video showing the murders was entitled, “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” ISIS explicitly threatened Italy in the video and also made it clear that they would target Christians simply for adhering to a different faith. Earlier this month, ISIS’ branch followed up by killing a large group of Ethiopian Christians.

In March, ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. More than 20 people were killed in the assault, which targeted foreign tourists. Citizens of Britain, France, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Spain were among the victims. Although ISIS was quick to lay claim to the museum slayings, the reality is more complicated. The Tunisian government has blamed the Uqba ibn Nafi Brigade, which is part of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an official branch of al Qaeda. Based on publicly-available information, it appears that the attackers may have joined ISIS, but the operation itself was planned by the AQIM brigade’s leadership.

Al Qaeda’s international network continues to launch high-profile attacks across the continent. Some of these operations directly target foreigners. Earlier this month, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia, killed more than 140 people at the Garissa University College in Kenya. The gunmen reportedly separated out non-Muslims for killing, letting many Muslims go. This shows that the organization, like other parts of al Qaeda, is very concerned about the impact of its violence in the Muslim-majority world. In this respect and others, the Garissa attack was similar to Shabaab’s siege of the Westgate shopping mall in September 2013. More than 60 people were killed, with Shabaab’s gunmen singling out non-Muslims. Shabaab’s attacks in Kenya and other neighboring countries are part of what the UN has identified as the group’s “regional” strategy. Shabaab has undoubtedly suffered setbacks since the height of its power in East Africa, but it still operates a prolific insurgency inside Somalia, while also seeking to expand its capabilities in the surrounding countries. In fact, America’s counterterrorism efforts in East Africa seem to be principally aimed at the part of Shabaab tasked with exporting terrorism throughout the region.

As we’ve seen over the past several years, al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Africa will attack American and Western interests when the opportunity presents itself.  The September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission and Annex in Benghazi and the raid on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis three days later were carried out by al Qaeda-linked groups. The Ansar al Sharia organizations in Libya and Tunisia, both of which are tied to AQIM, were involved in these assaults on America’s diplomatic presence in North Africa. In early 2013, terrorists commanded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar killed dozens of foreign workers during the siege of the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. Belmokhtar, who is openly loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, claimed responsibility for operation on behalf of al Qaeda.

There is no doubt, therefore, that both ISIS and al Qaeda pose a threat to Western interests in Africa. Below, I explore current trends within both organizations, highlighting some ways these international networks may threaten Americans both home and abroad. But first, I briefly look at the different strategies ISIS and al Qaeda are employing to build up their networks.

Read more

***

Subcommittee Hearing: Terrorism in Africa: The Imminent Threat to the United States

Witnesses

Dr. J. Peter Pham
Director
Africa Center
Atlantic Council
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Mr. Thomas Joscelyn
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Dr. Daniel Byman
Research Director
Center for Middle East Policy
Center for Security Studies
Brookings Institution
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Egypt, Libya: U.S. Not Supporting Us Against the Islamists

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several Islamic State flags can be seen in the crowd. (Photo: © Reuters)

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several Islamic State flags can be seen in the crowd. (Photo: © Reuters)

Clarion Project, by Ryan Mauro, April 9, 2015:

The anti-Islamist governments of Egypt and Libya are complaining publicly that the U.S. is not providing enough counter-terrorism assistance and is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. They remain appreciative of the U.S.-backed intervention to topple Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but criticize the U.S. for not having a plan to contend with Islamist terrorists and militias afterwards.

Egyptian President El-Sisi is gently criticizing the U.S. for not supporting the anti-Islamist government of Libya enough. He said, “there is a legitimate [Libyan] government and that government is denied the weapons it needs to confront terrorists.”

El-Sisi traces it back to original mistakes that the West made in Libya He said that the military intervention to overthrow Gaddafi was the correct decision but the West failed to implement a strategy to help Libyans tackle Islamist forces afterwards.

“The NATO operation in Libya was not complete, which led the North African country to fall under the control of militant and extremist groups,” he said. He was more forceful in another statement that “we abandoned the Libyan people to extremist militias.”

Gaddafi supported terrorism, hid chemical weapons and spread anti-Americanism and radical Islamic propaganda. His relatively secular dictatorship stimulated Islamism and committed gross human rights violations. The NATO and Arab League alliance militarily intervened when the Libyan rebels—a mixture of Islamists, designated terrorists and secular-democrats—were about to experience a bloodbath in Benghazi.

The Muslim Brotherhood lost the first elections in a landslide despite massive organizational advantages. Unfortunately, the U.S. turned a blind eye to Islamism and even welcomed the participation of Qatar, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest allies.

The Qatari-backed Islamists stabbed the West in the back by undercutting the secular-democrats and using its influence to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood’s political and militia operations. The West doesn’t even see the backstabbing because it doesn’t view the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the problem.

Libya is now in a civil war. The internationally-recognized government in the east, based in Tobruk, is backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. A rival government is based in the west at Tripoli and it has a coalition of loyal Islamist militias named the Libyan Dawn. This government is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and backed by Qatar, Turkey and Sudan. The West is neutral.

The chaos has allowed ISIS to grow in the north. The terrorist group has captured Derna and expanded to Sirte. ISIS is reported to have 800 fighters in Derna alone. The Libyan Foreign Minister says 5,000 foreign jihadists are now in the country.

And it’s getting worse. The spiritual leader of Ansar al-Sharia, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya responsible for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, announced his allegiance to ISIS. Abu Abdullah al-Libi tweeted a photo of a book titled, The Legal Validity of Pledging Allegiance to the Islamic State” and started a pro-ISIS Arabic website.

One of the biggest problems facing ISIS is that the legitimacy of its caliphate was widely rejected on procedural grounds and al-Libi can help craft rebuttals. He is presented expert on Sharia Law so he speaks with religious authority, making him a dangerous addition to the relatively unpopular ISIS’ ranks.

ISIS says Tunisia is next and its largest training camp is less than 30 miles from the border. The anti-Islamist government there faces a major threat because Tunisia is the greatest source of foreign fighters for ISIS.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni chastised the U.S. and Europe in February for not providing its army with the weapons to fight ISIS and the Libyan Dawn coalition of Islamist militias who loyal to the rival government in Tripoli. A growing chorus of U.S. officials are urging a lifting of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

“Libya Dawn is part of militant Islamists which get weapons, ammunition and supplies from all over the world, but America and Britain have other ideas against the interest of the Libyan people,” Al-Thinni said.

He accused the U.S. and U.K. of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood and trying to get the “terrorist grouping” into political power. Al-Thinni said his country would instead look to Russia and accused Turkey of supporting the Libyan Dawn forces.

“The British are trying with all their power to save the Brotherhood and ensure their involvement in Libya’s political scene,” said an anonymous member of Al-Thinni’s cabinet in December.

The Libyan Foreign Minister likewise lamented that his country is “not part of any international strategy against terrorism.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya pushed back against Libya and Egypt’s statements in February that the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist militias are part of the same problem as ISIS. She rejected the notion that the U.S. should favor the Tobruk-based secular-democratic government over the Islamist one.

” This is not to suggest that ideology has played no role in Libya’s internal conflict, although it is not the defining role that some – particularly external parties – have sought to highlight; Libyans are by and large conservative, Sunni Muslims who share similar values.  Labels are unhelpful and misleading,” she wrote on the fourth anniversary of Libya’s revolution.

The Libyan embassy’s charge d’affairs and women’s rights activist Wafa Bugaighis said the U.S. is not supporting the Libyan government enough with intelligence-sharing, arms transfers and training. She emphasized that Libya is not requesting U.S. airstrikes or ground forces.

Read more

Islamic State claims responsibility for Tunis massacre

Policemen deploy during the March 18, 2015 attack on a museum in Tunis.

Policemen deploy during the March 18, 2015 attack on a museum in Tunis.

LWJ, by Thomas Joscelyn, March 19, 2015:

The Islamic State has reportedly claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack at the Bardo museum in Tunis. The SITE Intelligence Group has obtained a 3-minute audio message, as well as a written transcript in Arabic, that are attributed to the organization. The audio message and the written copy were disseminated via Twitter.

The “blessed invasion” of “one of the dens of disbelief and immorality in Muslim Tunisia” was carried out by two “knights” from the “Caliphate,” the Islamic State’s representative says. The two terrorists are identified as Tunisians going by the aliases Abu Zakaria al Tunisi and Abu Anas al Tunisi.

“The brothers were able to lay siege to a malicious group from the citizens of the Crusader countries, who were deceived by the apostates, beautifying for them the land of Tunisia to be a hotbed for their disbelief and debauchery,” SITE’s translation of the Islamic State’s message reads.

Most of the victims killed in the attack were foreign tourists, which accounts for the Islamic State’s reference to the “Crusader countries.” Twenty of the victims were visiting from Britain, France, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Spain, according to press accounts. Three Tunisians, in addition to the two attackers, were also killed in the assault. Still others were wounded.

The attack is the most devastating strike against civilians in Tunisia since the April 11, 2002 bombing at the El Ghriba synagogue. Nineteen people were killed in that bombing, which was carried out by al Qaeda.

In more recent years, the jihadists have focused their operations mainly on Tunisia’s security forces. For example, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Uqba bin Nafi Battalion killed four Tunisian security officers in February. Tunisian authorities said that 20 fighters took part in that assault.

Many Tunisian jihadists have gone off to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Those who have returned have fueled the chaos and violence in neighboring Libya.

The Islamic State has been building a presence in Tunisia, but it is not clear how many fighters loyal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s self-declared “caliphate” are located in the country. The Islamic State has been poaching from al Qaeda-allied groups, such as Ansar al Sharia and the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion, both of which are part of AQIM’s network.

A statement issued last year declared that the Uqba bin Nafi Battalion’s fighters had sworn allegiance to Baghdadi, but it quickly became apparent that the statement did not speak for the entire organization. A recent video from the group featured al Qaeda’s leaders, and a statement from the jihadists made it clear that their leadership is still loyal to AQIM.

Some members of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia have also defected to the Islamic State. In December of last year, a Tunisian jihadist named Boubaker el Hakim appeared in a pro-Islamic State video that was posted online. El Hakim also claimed responsibility for the assassinations of two Tunisian opposition politicians during the video.

In July 2013, Tunisian authorities implicated el Hakim in the assassinations, which the officials said were ordered by the leader of Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, Abu Iyad al Tunisi. Tunisian officials pointed to el Hakim’s jihadist experience in Iraq as one of the reasons he was considered so dangerous. [See LWJ report, Tunisian government alleges longtime jihadist involved in assassinations.]

Tunisian officials have expressed alarm at the growing jihadist problem. Earlier this week, as reported by Tunisia Live, the Interior Ministry announced “the arrest of 22 militants working in four alleged terrorist cells recruiting young Tunisians to fight in Libya.” The government also said that “an additional 10 other militants were also arrested while attempting to cross into Libya to join militant groups.”

In February, according to Reuters, Tunisian officials “arrested 32 militant Islamists,” who were said to be planning “spectacular” attacks. Some of them had fought in Syria.

Tunisia Museum Attack Meets Islamic State M.O

A victim is being evacuated by rescue workers outside the Bardo museum in Tunis, Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Tunis, Tunisia. AP PHOTO/HASSENE DRIDI

A victim is being evacuated by rescue workers outside the Bardo museum in Tunis, Wednesday, March 18, 2015 in Tunis, Tunisia. AP PHOTO/HASSENE DRIDI


CSP, by Kyle Shideler, March 18, 2015:

The attack on Tunisia’s famed Bardo Museum possesses all the hallmarks of a Islamic State attack. A small number of attackers, possibly in military dress, opened fire on a bus filled with western tourists, before following  fleeing tourists inside the Museum and taking them hostage. Two gunmen were reportedly killed by Tunisian authorities, while another two or three attackers may have escaped (early reports are always suspect, and the tendency in mass shootings is for witnesses to overestimate the number of attackers.) Over twenty people, mostly western tourists, were killed.

The attack quickly brings to mind several recent Islamic State-linked attacks, which also featured small team assaults against highly visible but comparatively soft targets likely to include Westerners but often in close proximity to actual government sites. Bardo is not far from the Tunisian Parliament.

For example, the IS attack against the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli, Libya, targeted “diplomatic missions and crusader security companies,” but was also the residence of the Prime Minister for the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Libyan Dawn faction.

Also comparable is the Kouachi Brothers violent storming of the Charlie Hebdo offices, targeting for death the satirical magazine’s editors and writers. While the Kouachi brothers claimed association with Al Qaeda, Islamic State prominently highlighted the attack, and the role of played by Kouachi confederate and Islamic State devotee Amedy Coulibaly in the release of Dabiq 7, the would-be Caliphate’s online magazine.

Tunisia has long been a base of recruitment for the Islamic State, as multiple media sources have pointed out.  Islamic State has been attempting to highlight its influence in the small North African state, by claiming responsibility for the assassinations of Tunisian leftist politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohammed Brahmi according to a video by long time jihadist militant Boubakr Hakim, released in December. Hakim is believed to have been responsible for the assassinations, together with recently slain Islamic State leader Ahmed Rouissi, recently killed in fighting with Libyan Dawn forces. Hakim, a member of Ansar al-Sharia before joining Islamic State had ties to the same French jihad recruitment network that produced Coulibaly and Kouachi. There have been claims the hits were carried out by Ansar al-Sharia on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood Ennahda party, with Al Qaeda-affiliated Abdel-Hakim Belhadj serving as broker. Belhadj himself has also recently been accused of aligning with Islamic State.

Given the preexisting Libya-Tunisia networks that Islamic State appears to have inherited, we can expect to see more such attacks.

***

Also see:

U.S. Backed Rebel Reportedly Leads Islamic State in Libya

map derna

CSP, by Kyle Shideler, March 2, 2015: 

Major news out of Libya as  the former head of the Al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, and a major player in the U.S.-backed overthrow of Mummar Gaddafi, has reportedly joined the Islamic State and is leading its forces there. This according to The Blaze National Security journalist Sara Carter on twitter, and Fox News’ Catherine Herridge in a Fox News report.

Belhadj’s ties to Al Qaeda were controversial during the run up to U.S. airstrikes in support of the Libyan rebels, but this did not prevent him from maintaining a high profile at the time, including being made head of the Tripoli Military Council, a position he held until resigning to run for office in May 2012. Belhadj has a reputation for involvement in the international jihad has well, playing a role in the 2004 Madrid training bombings, and accused by investigators of being involved in the murder of two Tunisian politicians at behest of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamic State fighters landed in Libya back in November of 2014, and have been at work establishing training camps in the Libyan city of Derna before launching a terror offensive which included an attack on a Libyan hotel, attacks on oil field workers, and the execution of 21 Copts in a graphic video which made international headlines.

If Belhadj has gone over to Islamic State, it will represent a major boost to IS’ efforts to co-opt and bring in Libya’s existing jihadist forces under their banner, which now reportedly includes as many as 3,000 fighters.   BelHadj’s forces play a significant role in the Islamist “Libyan Dawn” coalition (which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda’s Ansar al-Sharia), which currently holds Tripoli, and which claims to be the rightful government in opposition to the UN recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni.

Libyan Dawn supporters have repeatedly blamed Anti-Islamist general Khalifa al Haftar for the terror attacks of the Islamic State, including on the hotel residence of the Libyan Dawn prime minister, so there is reason to believe that if a binary choice develops between Belhadj and Haftar (who was recently made Commander and Chief of the Al-Thinni government forces), the Islamist factions will chooses Belhadj.

This would represent a major coup for the Islamic State, whose global strategy requires the incorporation of pre-established jihadist groups to bolsters their claim to Caliphate status and take additional territory, thus reinforcing their religious and legal authority, and attracting additional recruits.

Also see:

Egyptian beheadings show ISIS taking ‘global jihad’ to rest of Arab world

Published on Feb 16, 2015 by jim hoft  (who reminds us that Ansar al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the Benghazi attack and 3 emails were sent to the WH informing them of this on the night of the attack)

Fox News, Feb. 16, 2015:

The Islamic State’s mass execution of Egyptian Christians is the latest sign that ISIS is pointing its sword against not just the West but the rest of the Arab world — drawing the region into a spreading war that leaves the United States in a difficult spot as it tries to marshal a cohesive coalition.

That coalition started last fall as a U.S.-led airstrike campaign involving several Gulf states, and Jordan. Not only have a host of western nations since joined to offer at least financial support, but several other countries in the Middle East and North Africa are now launching their own military campaigns.

On Monday, Egyptian warplanes struck at ISIS militants in Libya, in retaliation for the mass execution of Coptic Christians from Egypt. The airstrikes reportedly were coordinated with the Libyan government.

Meanwhile, Iran is said to be fueling Shiite militias now battling ISIS militants on the ground in Iraq, as Iraq’s military loses strength. Syria’s Assad regime has been fighting ISIS from the start. And Jordan, a U.S. ally, has escalated its role in the coalition after a captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive by the Islamic State.

The distinct campaigns have raised questions about the direction of the anti-ISIS coalition and alliances in the region.

“It’s much more like Game of Thrones, and much less like a seriously thought-through strategy against a regional opponent,” Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, told FoxNews.com.

With ISIS-aligned militants battling on so many fronts in the region, analysts say the organization is trying to demonstrate its clout, in turn boosting its already-robust recruitment.

The multiple fronts, though, create challenges for the Obama administration. The Washington Post reported Monday that Iran-backed militias are taking the fight to ISIS in Iraq — which in turn increases Iran’s already growing influence in that country.

The impact of Egypt’s entry into Libya remains to be seen. But retired Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a former military intelligence officer now with the London Center for Policy Research, said: “Egypt jumping into Libya is not part of the [U.S.] plan.”

Amid the chaos, Shaffer said his group is urging the creation of a single “comprehensive treaty organization” — a standing coalition of countries in the region, which he describes as a sort of “Arab NATO.” Such a group, he said, could organize against ISIS and plan for establishing post-ISIS governance in areas where there is none. This could include Jordan, Egypt and several other governments all fighting a common enemy, which he stressed as critical.

“If everyone is in charge, no one is in charge,” he said, describing the current patchwork of local battles in the region.

Matthew Levitt, counterterrorism analyst with The Washington Institute, described the strikes in Libya as a separate issue from other Islamic State battles, and one fed by the severe instability in that country. “It’s a problem for Egypt, because they’re right next door,” he noted.

But regardless of how connected the Libya fighting is to the broader Islamic State crisis, the entire conflict has had a curious side effect: drawing attention away from what once was the No. 1 enemy in the region, Israel.

Even before the rise of ISIS, analysts say, some Arab states in the region were beginning to — quietly — work with Israel on various challenges including Iran. Now with ISIS the singular force uniting a region notoriously riven by tribal, religious and territorial differences, Israel is on the sidelines.

“This is actually not about Israel, for the first time in a long time,” Levitt said.

He suggested it best for Israel not to play any active role in the current conflict but said the reality is the Gulf states are now realizing “that not every evil in the world … has to do with Israel.”

Pletka said, further, “They and the Israelis see the region through the same prism.”

Whether this results in the long run in Israel being seen as less of an enemy of the Arab world — or simply means Israel becomes the target of fewer United Nations condemnations for a short spell — it represents a significant change, analysts say.

“This is a major, tectonic shift,” Pletka said.

The Islamic State, meanwhile, continues to incite surrounding countries, chiefly through the tactic of horrific executions.

The video released online over the weekend showed 21 Egyptian victims kneeling on a beach, before being beheaded. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi quickly vowed revenge, saying the whole world is in a “fierce battle with extremist groups.”

Both the Egyptian government and Libya’s fragile state are facing internal threats from militants claiming loyalty to ISIS. Egypt already is battling ISIS militants in the Sinai Peninsula, and the airstrikes in neighboring Libya mark an expansion of that fight.

“Clearly, this is a global jihad right before our eyes,” retired Gen. Jack Keane, a Fox News military analyst, said of the ISIS-driven killings.

In a written statement, the White House condemned the “despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists.”

The White House noted that the killing “is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.”

The White House urged a “political resolution” to the ongoing conflict in Libya. The White House is hosting a summit later this week on “countering violent extremism.”

FoxNews.com’s Judson Berger contributed to this report.

Also see:

Charlie Hebdo Shooter Possibly Linked to Cell Tied to Terror Recruitment

terroristsCSP, by Kyle Shideler, Jan.7, 2015:

Reports are coming in that at least one of the shooters involved in the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo where ten journalists and two policemen were murdered, may have long standing jihad ties. According to reports the shooters were allegedly Said and Cherif Kouachi both with French citizenship. A third individual Hamyd Mourad, has also been arrested.  In 2008, a French court sentenced a Cherif Kouachi to 3 years in prison for attempting to travel through Syria to Iraq in order to fight U.S. and Coalition troops:

The men were accused of links to the “19th Arrondissement Network,” named for the Paris district where it was based. The district is a diverse, working-class neighborhood, home to many Muslim families with roots in former French colonies in North Africa.

The network was involved in smuggling individuals to fight alongside Al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq. AQI would eventually become the group led by Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), which declares itself to be the Islamic caliphate under AbuBakr Al-Baghdadi. But it remains unclear if Kouachi and his accomplices were working on behalf of ISIS. During the attack, the gunmen reportedly yelled, “Tell the media that this is al-Qaeda in the Yemen!” This claim would also seem logical, since it was AQAP which issues Inspire magazine, which carried the 2013 death threat against Charlie Hebdo’s editor Stéphane Charbonnier.

Yet another member of the “19th Arrondissement Network”, Boubakeur Hakim, was linked by French and Tunisian intelligence to Ansar al-Sharia in 2013, for his role in the assassinations of Tunisian politicians Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid, both of whom were gunned down outside their homes by teams of gunmen. Hakim was also believed to be involved in weapon smuggling from Libya to Tunisia on behalf of Ansar al-Sharia. Belaid supporters would later express a belief that Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which would form the backbone of the Libyan rebels who overthrow Qaddafi, played a key role in training Ansar Al-Sharia to carry out the attack.  And while Hakim may have been the Ansar Al-Sharia triggerman, the killings were allegedly at the behest of the Tunisian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ennahada party, as the late Middle East Specialist Barry Rubin noted at the time:

“While Tunisia is being run by a coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and two secular parties, the Brotherhood’s power is growing, while Salafist groups are free to intimidate people. The most vocal opposition leader, Chokri Belaid, was assassinated; indications are that this killing was backed and even organized by the ruling Islamists. [Emphasis added]”

Whether Hakim and Kouachi remained in touch (which is unknown), it’s clear that the 19th Arrondissement Cell apparently graduated serious terrorist operatives undeterred by prison. Food for thought as the Obama Administration continues to release Guantanamo detainees.

If Cherif Kouachi is indeed the same one linked to the “19th Arrondissement” Cell, more than identifying a particular responsible terror group as the responsible party, it informs us that what unifies jihadists is their motivation. Members of a given cell may head off in different directions and joint new organizations, but the requirement to wage jihad to impose Islamic law, remains the same regardless. In understanding that, the attacker’s cry, “we have avenged the prophet!” may be more notable than any other declaration of responsibility.

Cherif Kouachi, left, 32, and his brother, Said Kouachi, 34, who are suspected in a deadly attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. Credit French Police

Cherif Kouachi, left, 32, and his brother, Said Kouachi, 34, who are suspected in a deadly attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris. Credit French Police

Also see:

Reporters Mock State Dept for Downplaying Benghazi Terrorists Link to Al Qaeda


November 21, 2014 

Reporters poked fun at State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke on Friday as he tried to elaborate on the Obama administrations stance on the recent UN report linking Ansar al-Sharia to Al Qaeda.

“These groups are associated with Al Qaeda in Maghreb,” Rathke said, “but they are not arms of core Al Qaeda.

Ansar al-Sharia is said to be responsible for the 2012 Benghazi attacks on the U.S. consulate in which four Americans were killed.

Reporters gave Rathke some terms that they deemed more fitting, including, “Al Qaeda light”, “the jayvee team”, and a subsidiary of McDonald’s.

New Benghazi Indictment Still Doesn’t Mention Al-Qaeda

20140916__benghazi_caskets_murdered_lby ANDREW C. MCCARTHY:

On September 10, 2012, al-Qaeda’s emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a lengthy statement to his fellow jihadists in Libya. He called on them to avenge the American military’s killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, the highest ranking al-Qaeda operative in that country. His “blood is calling, urging and inciting you to fight and kill the Crusaders,” Zawahiri cried.

The diatribe was no surprise, the following day being the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities committed against the United States by the terror network with which we were – and are – still at war. Plus, jihadists in Benghazi, the terror network’s hub in eastern Libya, had repeatedly attacked American and other Western targets during the preceding five months.

The following night, September 11, 2012, jihadists from al-Qaeda’s main Libyan franchise, Ansar al-Sharia, laid siege to a U.S. State Department mission in Benghazi, the very target jihadists had detonated an IED against only three months earlier, on June 6. They torched the facility, murdered the American ambassador to Libya, killed three additional American officials, and wounded several others in an attack that lasted several hours – a terrorist attack by our wartime enemies during which President Obama and the U.S. armed forces took no meaningful action to respond or rescue our personnel.

Now, do you suppose what happened before the Benghazi massacre – the continuing war with al-Qaeda, the serial jihadist attacks, the call by the terror network’s leader right before the 9/11 anniversary to avenge a “martyr” by striking against the United States – just might shed some light on the terrorist attack involving al-Qaeda’s Libyan franchise against the State Department compound that night?

If you do, you clearly do not work for the Obama administration and its brazenly politicized Justice Department.

For them, as a superseding indictment filed on Monday reaffirms, “al-Qaeda” is a term not to be uttered – except at fundraisers, and only for the purpose of absurdly claiming victory over the terrorist group. And Benghazi is just a spontaneous protest that, somehow, came to involve terrorists – impossible to have foreseen and over in the blink of an eye, before any commander-in-chief could have done much about it.

Yes, Attorney General Eric Holder’s minions have finally filed their long-awaited superseding indictment against Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a ringleader in the Benghazi attack. It is a gussied up replay of the original indictment returned last summer, the one that was roundly mocked by critics, not least by your humble correspondent. That indictment was more a political than a legal document, hewing to the administration’s fictional account of Benghazi as a sudden uprising, not a coordinated attack within the framework of an ongoing terrorist conspiracy.

The Justice Department hopes you’ll miss the chicanery this time because, ostensibly, they’ve beefed up the charges. Instead of the original indictment’s bare-bones brevity – it was just two pages long (actually, just 15 lines) and alleged just one count against the single defendant – the superseding indictment comes in at about 21 pages and now levels 18 charges against Khatallah. But the additional heft merely comes from a mining of new statutory offenses out of the same version of events. The story has not changed.

That is, the new indictment does not allege an al-Qaeda terrorist conspiracy against the United States. It instead posits a scheme lasting just one day – indeed, perhaps just a few hours – in which Khatallah is accused of agreeing to lend material support, namely, himself, to unidentified terrorists who spontaneously attacked the State Department compound without much planning or warning. It is indictment as agitprop: a charging instrument designed to sit comfortably with the Obama administration’s political claims.

The superseding indictment makes no mention of al-Qaeda, much less of Zawahiri’s baying for American blood. After all, the president had said some three-dozen times during the 2012 campaign that he had already defeated al-Qaeda. In fact, Obama had the temerity to repeat that risible claim at his Vegas fundraiser the day after the massacre (“A day after 9/11, we are reminded that a new tower rises above the New York skyline, but al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat and bin Laden is dead”).

Read more: Family Security Matters

State Dept: US Embassy in Libya Held by Jihadists is “Secure”

 

Frontpage, by Daniel Greenfield:

This seems to be some usage of the word “Secure” that I was not familiar with. Neither was Ambassador Stevens who was assured that the Benghazi facility was secure.

A senior State Department official said Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Libya’s capital is believed to be secure after reports that an Islamist-allied militia group took over the compound.

“We’ve seen the reports and videos and are seeking additional details,” said the official. “At this point, we believe the Embassy compound itself remains secure but we continue to monitor the situation on the ground, which remains very fluid.”

Considering that the Libya Dawn, a coalition that includes Ansar al-Sharia, responsible for the Benghazi attack, and Feb 17, which was meant to be providing security, holds the residential compound, not to mention the Libyan government, what basis is there for believing it’s secure?

But then again admitting what is really going on would damage Obama’s image and so everyone immediately goes into cover up mode.

That’s what happened in Benghazi and with virtually every event in Libya. Considering that Obama implemented regime change and that the whole thing badly fell apart, the country is a black hole of media coverage.

Now Jihadists are swimming in the pool of the residential compound of the “secure” US Embassy.

US captures Benghazi suspect, but most attackers remain free

benghazi_fire_gunBy 

Ahmed Abu Khattalah, who is suspected of taking direct part in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, has been detained by the US. Abu Khattalah was the most conspicuous of the alleged attackers. He even granted interviews to journalists from multiple media outlets since the attack.

Abu Khattalah’s accomplices have been less ostentatious, however, preferring to operate in the shadows. Dozens of terrorists who helped overrun the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi, killing four Americans, remain free.

In January, the State Department added Abu Khattalah to the US government’s list of specially designated global terrorists, describing him as a “senior leader” of Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi. Two other jihadists were designated at the same time: Abu Iyad al Tunisi, who heads Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, and Sufian Ben Qumu, who leads Ansar al Sharia in Derna, Libya.

The State Department also added the Ansar al Sharia chapters in Benghazi, Derna, and Tunisia to the list of foreign terrorist organizations. (Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi and Derna operate under the same banner, as simply Ansar al Sharia Libya.)

Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi and Derna were both “involved” in the Sept. 11, 2012 “attacks against the US Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya,” according to State. Ansar al Sharia Tunisia was responsible for the assault on the US Embassy in Tunis three days later, on Sept. 14, 2012.

Ben Qumu is an ex-Guantanamo detainee and was previously identified by US military and intelligence officials as an al Qaeda operative. According to a leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) file, Ben Qumu’s alias was found on the laptop of an al Qaeda operative responsible for overseeing the finances for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The information on the laptop indicated that Ben Qumu was an al Qaeda “member receiving family support.”

Some of Ben Qumu’s men from Ansar al Sharia in Derna were among the Benghazi attackers, according to US intelligence officials. Neither Ben Qumu, nor his fighters, have been detained.

Like Ben Qumu, Abu Iyad al Tunisi (whose real name is Seifallah Ben Hassine) has a lengthy al Qaeda-linked pedigree that stretches back to pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Multiple al Qaeda-affiliated parties involved in Benghazi attack and still at-large

In addition to Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi and Derna, jihadists from at least three other al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups participated in the Sept. 11 assault in Benghazi.

On Jan. 15, the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the terrorist attack. “Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM, Ansar al Sharia, AQAP, and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks,” the report reads.

AQAP, AQIM, and the Mohammad Jamal Network all established training camps in eastern Libya after the rebellion against Muammar el Qaddafi began in 2011.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are both official branches of al Qaeda and have sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir. The head of AQAP, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was also appointed the general manager of al Qaeda’s network in August 2013.

Read more at Long War Journal

Benghazi attack suspect captured by American team, en route to US

 

Fox News, By Justin Fishel:

A suspected terrorist linked to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans has been captured inside Libya by U.S. forces and currently is en route to the United States, Fox News has learned.

Sources told Fox News that the suspect, Ansar al-Sharia commander Ahmed Abu Khattala, was captured Sunday during a joint U.S. military and law enforcement operation, and will face prosecution in the United States.

President Obama signed off on the mission on Friday night, Fox News is told. Khattala was captured south of Benghazi by U.S. special operators and is on his way to the U.S. aboard a Navy ship.

Khattala was long thought to be one of the ringleaders of the deadly attack, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died. He had openly granted media interviews since the 2012 attack, but until now evaded capture.

The capture marks the first time the United States has caught one of the suspects in the 2012 assault.

“He didn’t know what hit him,” one source told Fox News of the capture. According to sources, there was no firefight — a small Special Forces team with one FBI agent took part in the mission.

White House and Pentagon officials publicly confirmed the capture late Tuesday morning. In a written statement, Obama said: “The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans.”

He thanked the “painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel,” and said the suspect would “now face the full weight of the American justice system.”

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans. We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks,” Obama said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby called Khattala a “key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.” He said there were no civilian casualties in the weekend operation, and all U.S. personnel have “safely departed” Libya.

The administration has faced sustained criticism from some in Congress and the families of the victims over the fact that no one had been brought to justice since that day in 2012.

State Department official Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were also killed during the attack. Khattala’s capture came 642 days later.

With Khattala expected to face prosecution in a U.S. court, the administration already is being pressed to hold off on reading him his Miranda rights until he is interrogated.

“I am pleased that Khattala is finally in U.S. custody, and I am grateful for the military, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals who helped capture him,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement, adding: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

U.S. officials, without saying whether the suspect has been read his Miranda rights, said he has undergone an “intelligence interrogation.”

Khattala faces three counts in the federal complaint against him, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

They are: killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility; providing or attempting to provide support to terrorists resulting in death; and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department retains the option of adding additional charges.

“Our nation’s memory is long and our reach is far,” Holder said in a statement, adding: “Even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators.”

Khattala, until this past weekend, had loomed as an almost taunting presence. A month after the attack, he admitted to Fox News that he was at the scene of the attack, though claimed he did not plan it. At the time, he claimed he was just directing traffic and looking after fellow militia members guarding the complex.

He offered no remorse, though, for the killing of four Americans. At the time, he said he had not yet been contacted by U.S. officials.

Fox News’ Ed Henry, Bret Baier, Jennifer Griffin, Greg Palkot, Jake Gibson and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report. 

Sources: DOD memo sent after Benghazi attack listed suspects with Al Qaeda ties

riceFox News, By Catherine Herridge:

A targeting memo sent to the State Department by the Defense Department’s Africa Command two days after the Benghazi attack listed 11 suspects with ties to Al Qaeda and other groups, counter-terrorism and congressional sources confirmed to Fox News.

This is significant because it arrived two days before then-UN ambassador Susan Rice appeared on television shows blaming the assault on an inflammatory video. It also came nearly a day before presidential aide Ben Rhodes sent an email also suggesting the video – and not a policy failure – was to blame for the Sep, 11, 2012 attack that claimed four American lives.

The memo, which was referred to in passing during recent congressional testimony, was drawn up by the Defense Department’s Africa command, known as Africom, and was sent to the State Department as the best available intelligence in the early morning hours of September 14, 2012.

It included the names of 11 suspects, four connected to the Al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa known as AQIM, and seven connected to Ansar al-Sharia, a group with ties to the terrorist network.

“They knew from the get-go that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack so the idea that the Obama administration didn’t know that early on or they suspected it was something else entirely basically is willful blindness,”said counter-terrorism analyst Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“You have to look at the facts and what the intelligence says and that intelligence was clear that known Al Qaeda personalities were involved in this attack.”

In her new book, “Hard Choices,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed the administration made new information available as soon as it was received.

“Every step of the way, whenever something new was learned, it was quickly shared with Congress and the American people,” she wrote. “There is a difference between getting something wrong, and committing wrong.”

While the contents of the email are stamped classified, an attachment including a flow chart showing the relationship among the suspects, is not classified, according to a leading Republican on the House Government Oversight Committee who has seen the memo and wants the administration to release it.

“This is a document from military intelligence widely distributed to the State Department, the White House, the Pentagon, the intelligence community,”said Rep.Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

“This was not buried in the bowels of some email chain. This was a widely distributed document. It demonstrated that Ansar al-Sharia and specifically Al Qaeda were involved in this attack. It should have been something that was put out immediately, not nearly two years after the fact.”

The memo was among some 3,000 documents recently released by the State Department to the oversight committee. With the House Speaker establishing a select committee to investigate Benghazi, all documents from the relevant House committee investigations were handed over.

Asked about the memo, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she was not familiar with it, adding “We described the perpetrators as terrorists from the beginning, we’ve discussed this fact over and over again of course from the podium and again that hasn’t changed.”

But a review of the State Department transcripts in the first week after the attack shows then-spokeswoman Victoria Nuland resisted the terrorism description, instead telling reporters on Sep.17, 2012 that the government was still investigating.

Asked by a reporter if the administration regarded the attack as “an act of terrorism,” Nuland replied, “I don’t think we know enough. I don’t think we know enough. And we’re going to continue to assess… We’re going to have a full investigation now, and then we’ll be in a better position to put labels on things, okay?”

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Rogue Libyan General Bombing Benghazi Militias that Attacked US Mission

libyan-revolutionary-khalifa-hiftar-450x253Front Page, By Daniel Greenfield:

The US could have used a rogue commanders while Americans were being murdered in Benghazi. That doesn’t necessarily mean this is a good thing. But it may not be a bad thing.

General Hiftar has lived in the US for decades and has ties to the CIA and the State Department that go back for some time. I don’t believe that the current administration would back this type of action, but Hiftar may be demonstrating to the US why we should back him.

After Obama’s illegal regime change attack on Libya, the country is a mess. There are two prime ministers, one is a Muslim Brotherhood man, the other is in exile. Much of the country is run by various militias with ties to Al Qaeda and the Brotherhood.

This looks like a strongman’s bid for power by showing that he can control the country. Muslim countries in the Middle East invariably revert to strongmen. Now Libya may have found its strongman.

The heaviest fighting in Libya since the Arab spring revolution broke out in the eastern capital of Benghazi on Friday as forces led by a retired general attacked militias on the ground and with jets.

Air strikes pounded militia bases at dawn and 6,000 troops converged on the city, storming a series of bases and checkpoints.

Eyewitnesses described a city in chaos, with jets streaking low over rooftops, tanks on the streets, heavy detonations and aggressive fighting.

“The fighting is close to my house,” said one resident in the Hawari district. “Planes are going very low, there are explosions, there is fighting around the February 17 [militia] base.”

The Feb 17 militia was hired by Hillary’s State Department to protect the US mission. And then State stopped paying them. The militia is loosely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and even to Al Qaeda. It may have also played a role in the attack.

The attack is led by Khalifa Hiftar, a former commander of the 2011 uprising that deposed Muammar Gaddafi. Hitfar announced the operation was launched to clear Benghazi of Islamist militias and restore Libya’s dignity.

Hiftar, who called on the army earlier this year to mount a coup against the government, appears to have the support of a significant proportion of Libya’s armed forces. He insisted the operation was sanctioned by army commanders, saying: “All reserve forces are mobilised. If we fail today, the terrorists win.”

But Libya’s government insisted the operation had no official sanction, with the chief of the general staff, Abdul Salam Jadallah, branding Hiftar a criminal and ordering Benghazi’s militias to fight back.

Air force planes struck the bases of the Rafalla al-Sahati and Ansar al-Sharia militias, the latter blamed by Washington for the attack two years ago on the US consulate that led to the death of ambassador Chris Stevens.

Abdul Salam Jadallah (Major-General Abdulsalam Jadallah al-Salihine al-Obeidi) is from Benghazi and was appointed last year.  He defected from Gaddafi’s forces, but then went rogue refusing to follow the orders of the former Prime Minister. He’s calling for Benghazi militias to fight back which is rather revealing of his ties to them.

Khalifa Hiftar obviously commands a sizable portion of the military which means that he can do what the government can’t.

In the Muslim Middle East that’s often all the qualification for running an otherwise anarchic collection of tribes that you need.