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A Failure of Policy

Al Qaeda runs amok.

May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Ayman al Zawahiri also used his September 10 video to call on Libyans to avenge the death of Abu Yahya al Libi, a top al Qaeda operative killed months earlier by a U.S. drone. Within hours of the Cairo rally, a coalition of al Qaeda-linked jihadists stormed the U.S. compound in Ben-ghazi, killing four Americans.

A bipartisan report published by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on January 15 identifies the attackers as belonging to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN), and Ansar al Sharia. AQIM and AQAP are formal branches of al Qaeda, having sworn an oath of loyalty to Ayman al Zawahiri. Muhammad Jamal is a longtime subordinate of Zawahiri and was in contact with him in 2011 and 2012. Jamal’s ties to al Qaeda’s senior leadership and other parts of al Qaeda’s international network have been formally recognized in terrorist designations by both the State Department and the United Nations. Ansar al Sharia in Derna, Libya, is led by an ex-Guantánamo detainee and al Qaeda operative, Sufian Ben Qumu. Some of Ben Qumu’s men took part in the Ben-ghazi attack.

On September 13, a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, was instigated by Shaykh Abd al-Majid al Zindani, who was designated an al Qaeda supporter by the Treasury Department in 2004. At
the time, Zindani was described as an Osama bin Laden “loyalist” who “has a long history of working with” the al Qaeda founder, “notably serving as one of [bin Laden’s] spiritual leaders.” Zindani has helped al Qaeda in various ways, from recruiting new jihadists for its training camps to helping the terrorist organization purchase weapons. In December 2013, the Treasury Department reported that Zindani “has issued religious guidance in support of AQAP operations.”

On September 14, 2012, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia led a mob that ransacked the U.S. embassy and a nearby American school in Tunis, causing millions of dollars in damage. The organization’s head is a notorious jihadist named Seifallah Ben Hassine (aka Abu Iyad al Tunisi), who founded a terrorist organization in pre-9/11 Afghanistan in cooperation with al Qaeda’s senior leaders.

According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2012, Ben Hassine has been “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.” And when the State Department added Ansar al Sharia Tunisia to the list of designated terrorist entities in January it noted that Ben Hassine’s terrorist group “is ideologically aligned with al Qaeda and tied to its affiliates, including AQIM.” Indeed, Ansar
al Sharia Tunisia proudly announces that it has been loyal to al Qaeda since its founding.

The protests in Cairo, Tunis, and Sanaa were the most serious in terms of damage to American interests. In each case, Americans had to be protected from possible acts of violence. But al Qaeda-affiliated ideologues helped spark protests elsewhere, too.

On September 14, 2012, hundreds of protesters turned out for what was largely a peaceful protest in Amman, Jordan. They were led by Abu Sayyaf, who has played a significant role in al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq and Syria. And in Lahore, Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed led hundreds more in a protest against the video. Saeed is the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist organization that is closely allied with al Qaeda. Saeed was in close contact with Osama bin Laden right up until the al Qaeda master’s last days in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Saeed is considered so dangerous that the State Department has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Al Qaeda-linked organizations continued to use the video as a pretext for violence in the days following the Benghazi attack. On September 21, 2012, a group named Ansar Jerusalem launched a cross-border raid into Israel, killing an Israeli soldier. Ansar Jerusalem dubbed the attack a “raid of punishment,” saying it was necessary “to discipline those insulting the beloved Prophet,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. Although there was no Jewish involvement in the production of Innocence of Muslims, Ansar Jerusalem blamed Jews anyway. The organization sought to tie its attack on Israel to the video, when in reality the video had nothing to do with Ansar Jerusalem’s terrorism. Ansar Jerusalem first attacked Israel well before anyone was talking about Innocence of Muslims.

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