By Patrick Brennan:
U.S. officials have told the Washington Post that they believe that former Guantanamo Bay detainee and al-Qaeda-linked militant Abu Sufian bin Qumu was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya — a claim specifically denied in the New York Times’ report last week about the tragedy. Rumors have flown about bin Qumu’s involvement in the attack for a long time: Fox News reported the connection just a week after the attack in 2012, and 60 Minutes’ ridiculously thinly sourced report this winter about the attacks repeated the claim, though without any evidence of further sourcing. Back at the time of Fox’s original report, the Obama administration denied the connection, and this was reasonable enough — it honestly seemed like a few too many connections a little too quickly.
The group that we knew at the time had played a large part in the attack on the diplomatic facility is called Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, and as the Times reported last week, it’s led by a man named Abu Khattala, who’s been indicted for the attack, and who professes a great deal of admiration for al-Qaeda but denies that he’s connected to the group. Meanwhile, there is a group of the same name, Ansar al Sharia, in Derna, a relatively nearby town, and that’s the militia led by bin Qumu.
So it’s understandable how the connection may have been made erroneously — but now we know it’s about as reliable as can be: Bin Qumu’s group is about to be listed as a terrorist organization by the United States for their role in the Benghazi attack. There’s a semi-understandable reason why Fox’s report seemed like a stretch back then, but doesn’t now: At the time, the consensus of observers was that the two Ansar al Sharias in eastern Libya were actually pretty much separate organizations, so one group’s involvement in the Benghazi attack didn’t imply the other’s. But as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Tom Joscelyn explained to me last week, over the last year, it’s become increasingly clear this distinction was a false one, and the two probably are pretty much part of the same organization (he explains more about the issue at The Weekly Standard). It’s therefore unsurprising now to find out that the two groups were both somehow involved in perpetrating the attack — and that the al-Qaeda connections are undeniable.
Why is bin Qumu’s involvement important? Well, superficially, his links go straight to the heart of al-Qaeda — “core al-Qaeda,” the Arabs based in Afghanistan and Pakistan who perpetrated 9/11 and whose organization the Obama administration has repeatedly claimed to have effectively eliminated. Bin Qumu traveled to Afghanistan in the 1990s to train with bin Laden, fought the U.S. there in the 2000s, and then was captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay. When he was released from Guantanamo Bay, he was turned over to the Libyan government, who held him for a while and then released him (Qaddafi wasn’t a bad counterterrorism partner, but he wasn’t the best). And these connections could go further: The Post also reports that Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia will be listed as a terrorist group; some maintain that that group and al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate can all be closely connected to the operations in Libya. It also confirms that they would like to question a man named Faraj al Chalabi, whom they describe as “a Libyan extremist who may have fled the country” — but who may also be a direct connection between Libyan militias and al-Qaeda in Pakistan, as Tom Joscelyn explains this evening. That may suggest the terrorist networks that the Arab Spring has seen thrive in North Africa are stronger and more interconnected than thought.
Read more at National Review