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Ansar al Sharia Mans Security in Benghazi

5:29 PM, Jul 30, 2013 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Other reports suggested that the violence has been fueled by a “convoy of Islamist extremists” who “had arrived in Benghazi from the alleged hotbed town of Derna,” the Herald noted. But Zeidan “again refused to confirm or deny such allegations.” (Ansar al Sharia is known to have a presence in Derna that is led by a former Guantanamo detainee. Derna has supplied many Libyan jihadists to the battlefields of Iraq and elsewhere.)

Meanwhile, groups such as Ansar al Sharia have benefitted from the chaos. This is the opposite of what was supposed to happen.

In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism published on May 30, the State Department noted that after the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, “senior Libyan authorities assured their U.S. counterparts that security was their top priority.” Zeidan and his cabinet were “focused on bolstering the security sector in Libya and extending the reach of governmental security institutions beyond Tripoli.”

The “security and justice sector institutions had been severely weakened following 42 years of mismanagement” under the Qadhafi regime, however. And “any legislation seeking to limit the power of heavily-armed, extra-governmental militias has been difficult to enforce,” State reported. Libyan judges fear retribution and are therefore disinclined to hear cases. “Police and military personnel and facilities” have been the “frequent targets of attacks by pro-Qadhafi and violent Islamist extremist groups, who fiercely [resist] any efforts by the government to exert its authority.”

It is in this milieu that Ansar al Sharia is gaining strength.

Ansar al Sharia in Libya is, at a minimum, pro-al Qaeda. BBC News interviewed Ansar al Sharia commander Mohammad Ali al Zahawi shortly after the U.S. mission in Benghazi was attacked. While denying any link to al Qaeda, al Zahawi endorsed the terrorist organization’s strategy. 

“Al Qaeda's strategy is aimed at weakening U.S. hegemony on the Muslim nation,” al Zahawi said. BBC News reported that he “thoroughly approves” of al Qaeda’s strategy. Al Zahawi also praised al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, and the al Qaeda master’s statements on jihad.

“Such statements are a wake-up call for Muslims,” al Zahawi said. “They help galvanize the Muslim nation, maintain its dignity and pride,” he added. “Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri is keen on safeguarding Muslim rights.” 

Ansar al Sharia has been coy about its members’ role in the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. The group claimed in a statement that it did not participate “as a separate entity” or “as a sole entity” in the assault. This was hardly a firm denial.

And while al Zahawi did not claim responsibility for the attack, he was quick to imply the Americans deserved it. “Do you think that the killing of the US ambassador is more heinous than the several insults made about the Prophet, peace be upon him?” Zahawi asked during his BBC interview. 

“I swear by God that we can tolerate the killing of all people and wiping all countries off the map but we cannot tolerate a single swear word that could hurt our prophet,” Zahawi continued. “They are weeping buckets on this ambassador but they won't shed any tears when dozens of Muslims are injured in these protests against the blasphemous film.”

Some in the U.S. military and intelligence community see Ansar al Sharia in Libya as an extension of al Qaeda. An August 2012 report prepared by the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, in conjunction with the Library of Congress, said Ansar al Sharia “has increasingly embodied al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States.”

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