By THOMAS JOSCELYN:
The US State Department announced today that it has added three chapters of Ansar al Sharia, as well as three of the groups’ leaders, to the government’s terrorist designation lists. Ansar al Sharia groups in Benghazi, Derna, and Tunisia were designated as foreign terrorist organizations, as well as specially designated global terrorist entities.
The three Ansar al Sharia leaders, Sufian Ben Qumu, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, and Seifallah Ben Hassine (a.k.a. Abu Iyad al Tunisi), were also added to the list of specially designated global terrorists.
Ben Qumu is described as “the leader” of Ansar al Sharia Derna, while Khattalah is “a senior leader” of Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi. Seifallah Ben Hassine is the founder of Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia.
The State Department says that Ansar al Sharia “is ideologically aligned with al Qaeda and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM” (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). The designation confirms The Long War Journal’s reporting on Ansar al Sharia Tunisia’s connections to the al Qaeda network.
Attacks on US Mission and Annex in Benghazi, US Embassy in Tunis
All three Ansar al Sharia organizations were involved in assaults on US diplomatic facilities in September 2012.
The Ansar al Sharia groups in Derna and Benghazi were both “involved” in the “September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya,” the State designation said.
US intelligence officials have previously told The Long War Journal that some of Ben Qumu’s men took part in the Benghazi attack. The US government has reportedly issued a sealed indictment against Khattalah because of his alleged role in the assault.
Three days later, on Sept. 14, 2012, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia was “involved” in the “attack against the US Embassy and American school in Tunis, which put the lives of over one hundred United States employees in the Embassy at risk.”
The State Department previously reported on Ben Hassine’s role in the Sept. 14 attack in Tunis. In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism, published in May 2013, Foggy Bottom noted that Ben Hassine “was implicated as the mastermind behind the September 14 attack on the US Embassy,” which involved “a mob of 2,000 – 3,000″ people, “including individuals affiliated with the militant organization Ansar al Sharia.”
Al Qaeda has praised the September 2012 assaults on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Cairo, Sanaa, and Tunis. In November 2012, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri released an audio message praising the assaults as “defeats” for the US.
“They were defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sanaa, and in their places were raised the flags of tawhid [monotheism] and jihad,” Zawahiri said in the message, which was translated the SITE Intelligence Group.
The 10th edition of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine celebrated the September 2012 attacks. The cover picture showed a black flag, similar to those used by al Qaeda-affiliated groups, being raised in front of one of the embassies. The feature article was titled, “We Are All Usama,” a reference to the chant heard in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.
None of the suspected terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi or Tunis have been brought to justice. In its new designation, the State Department says the US government “is committed to taking all appropriate actions against the organizations and individuals responsible for the attacks against the US diplomatic facilities in Libya and Tunisia.”
Al Qaeda-tied biographies
Two of the three jihadists named in today’s designation, Sufian Ben Qumu and Seifallah Ben Hassine, have had strong ties to the al Qaeda network throughout their careers. Both have been previously profiled by The Long War Journal. [See, for example, LWJ reports Al Qaeda ally orchestrated assault on US Embassy in Tunis and Ex-Gitmo detainee reportedly tied to consulate attack.]
Read more at Long War Journal