The Magazine

Questions They Won’t Answer

Benghazi isn’t going away.

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES and THOMAS JOSCELYN
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“I will say, you know, the question has always been who, exactly, the attackers were, what their motivations were and how they—the attack evolved,” Psaki said. “We’ve always said that there were extremists that we felt were involved. There’s an ongoing criminal investigation, as you are very familiar with, that you just referred to, so I’d refer other questions to them.”

In a follow-up, Psaki was asked: “When you call them ‘extremists,’ will you not say ‘al Qaeda’ from that podium?”

She would not. “It’s an ongoing FBI investigation,” she said.

The reticence is odd. Reporting by The Weekly Standard, as well as by Lara Logan of 60 Minutes and Fox News’s Catherine Herridge, has uncovered multiple al Qaeda ties. The chief Benghazi suspects include men who not only have been involved with al Qaeda for years but also have direct ties to al Qaeda’s founding leaders: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. According to U.S. officials familiar with the investigation, they include an Egyptian who was trained by al Qaeda in the late 1980s, served as a terrorist commander under Zawahiri in the 1990s, and was in direct contact with Zawahiri in the months leading up to the Benghazi attack. Another is a Libyan who served as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards and is suspected of delivering materials taken from the Benghazi compound after the attack to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan. Still another is a former Guantánamo detainee who worked for bin Laden as a driver during the 1990s, and whose alias was found on the laptop of one of the 9/11 conspirators. In addition, intelligence officials tell The Weekly Standard that a trusted al Qaeda courier was involved in the attacks. 

On October 7, the State Department designated Muhammad Jamal, an Egyptian who long served as Zawahiri’s subordinate, as an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist. Jamal had been imprisoned under Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak only to be released in the wake of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. The State Department recognized Jamal’s relationship with Zawahiri and “AQ senior leadership,” as well as two al Qaeda affiliates: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

State’s designation also noted that Jamal’s “confiscated computer contained letters to al Zawahiri in which Jamal asked for assistance and described [his network’s] activities, including acquiring weapons, conducting terrorist training, and establishing terrorist groups in the Sinai.”

But there was a curious omission from the State Department’s designation: Benghazi. It has been widely reported—by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and others—that some of Jamal’s trainees took part in the attack. Indeed, two weeks after the State Department’s announcement, the U.N.’s own terrorist designation of Jamal included this line: “Reported to be involved in the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 Sep. 2012.” Jamal is in custody in Egypt, where he is awaiting trial, according to the U.N.

Faraj al Chalabi, the Libyan who once served as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, fled Libya for Pakistan shortly after the Benghazi attack. According to several sources, Chalabi is suspected of delivering sensitive materials from the compound in Benghazi to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan. He was detained and returned to Libya, where he was questioned and then inexplicably released.

Chalabi has a long rap sheet. Interpol issued an arrest warrant for him in March 1998. That same warrant targeted bin Laden as well—the very first one issued by Interpol for the late al Qaeda leader. Under Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan government repeatedly accused Chalabi of being responsible for the murder of a German couple in 1994. “It is worth noting that the elements that carried out that act and Osama bin Laden’s arrangements are still wanted and that their organizational connection to the Al Qaeda organization has been confirmed,” Qaddafi’s regime claimed in a June 2004 U.N. filing.

There’s more. U.S. intelligence officials believe that Sufian Ben Qumu, a Libyan ex-Guantánamo detainee, trained some of the jihadists who carried out the attacks in Benghazi. He, too, has longstanding connections with al Qaeda leadership.

Ben Qumu is one of the original “Arab Afghans” who traveled to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. In the years that followed the end of the anti-Soviet jihad, Ben Qumu followed al Qaeda to the Sudan and then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was eventually arrested in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks and transferred to the American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

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