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Investigating ‘Command and Control’ in Benghazi Attack

9:15 AM, Dec 20, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The Wall Street Journal first reported that after Kashef’s release from prison he “petitioned al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri to establish a new Qaeda affiliate he called Al Qaeda in Egypt” and also received financing from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Mohammed al Zawahiri reportedly helped Kashef get in touch with his older brother.

Kashef established training camps in both Egypt and Libya and some of his trainees took part in the Benghazi attack. Like Shehato, Kashef has been arrested by Egyptian authorities.

Al Hayat reported the Egyptian “investigations revealed that [Kashef] had close links to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who assigned him to lead the organization in Egypt and Libya.” Kashef, Al Hayat continued, “has masterminded several operations .  .  . particularly in Libya and Yemen, upon Zawahiri’s instructions,” and “he got the green light to carry out further jihadist operations in Egypt and Libya.”

The Egyptian press has reported that Kashef has “joined al Qaeda.” And Die Welt, citing Western intelligence sources, recently reported that Shehato and Kashef “look after al Qaeda’s interests” in Egypt. Die Welt added that the Nasr City cell worked “directly under [Ayman al] Zawahiri's orders.”

In other words, what we know about the Nasr City cell’s involvement in Benghazi does not support the Accountability Review Board’s assessment of the terrorist threat.    

There are additional al Qaeda connections to the attack in Benghazi. Senior U.S. officials have pointed to the involvement of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al Qaeda affiliate that has sworn fealty to Ayman al Zawahiri. According to CNN, terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) are thought to have been involved. AQI has also sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri.

And then there is the Ansar al Sharia militia in Benghazi. The Obama administration has repeatedly said that members of the militia took part in the Benghazi assault. But the administration and its surrogates have sought to distinguish the group from al Qaeda.

According to ABC News, however, Kashef has “admitted to traveling to Libya and assisting Ansar al Sharia, which U.S. officials suspect organized the attack on the consulate that killed U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.”

We are left with numerous connections between al Qaeda, the attack in Benghazi, and the Cairo protest earlier that same day.

Some in Washington have sought to downplay the possibility that September 11, 2012 was an al Qaeda terrorist attack. An independent review panel, or perhaps a special congressional committee, should comb through the intelligence identifying and describing the Benghazi attackers. And the U.S. government should declassify and release as much of that intelligence as possible.  

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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