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More Al Qaeda Connections in Benghazi

10:20 AM, Oct 25, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The Benghazi story continues to evolve. CNN reports that multiple al Qaeda franchises, and others with al Qaeda links, are suspected of taking part in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate.

An Embassy Burns

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The lead sentence from a new CNN.com piece (“US Intel believes some Benghazi attackers tied to al Qaeda in Iraq”) reads: “U.S. intelligence believes that assailants connected to al Qaeda in Iraq were among the core group that attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, a U.S. government official told CNN.”

The al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists reportedly joined others from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a local militia named Ansar al Sharia that has suspected al Qaeda ties, and an Egyptian jihadist network that also reportedly has direct ties to al Qaeda’s senior leaders.

While the story is still being pieced together, the overall picture is becoming clearer: The more one investigates the attack in Benghazi, the more al Qaeda ties one finds.

CNN reports that the “latest intelligence suggests the core group of suspects from the first wave of the attack on the Benghazi mission numbered between 35 to 40,” and that “[a]round a dozen of the attackers are believed to be connected to either al Qaeda in Iraq or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the government official said.”

Other reports have pegged the number of attackers at closer to 20. But CNN’s account is consistent with what the State Department has said. During congressional testimony earlier this month, State Department official Charlene Lamb described the scene in Benghazi as a large-scale terrorist assault involving “dozens of attackers…that was unprecedented in its size and intensity.”

Again, all of these details remain to be confirmed. But here is a brief look at the four al Qaeda-linked constituencies that reportedly executed this “unprecedented” attack:

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) – AQI has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and has threatened American interests. The group had previously sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

Al Qaeda’s arm in Iraq suffered a serious setback as a result of the surge of American forces and a local uprising against its draconian rule in parts of Saddam’s former nation state. But the group has experienced a comeback of late for two main reasons.

First, Iraqi forces could not completely fill the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of American combat forces, which was completed in late 2011. As a result, AQI has greatly increased its operational tempo, from about 75 attacks per week earlier this year to around 140 attacks per week currently.

Second, the uprising against Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria has created conditions that are ripe for al Qaeda’s expansion. And that is precisely what AQI has done, expanding its operations in Syria through new affiliated groups including the Al Nusrah Front. The number of al Qaeda-style suicide bombings inside Syria has increased dramatically in the past year. And the suicide bombings are just one, especially dramatic aspect of AQI’s overall operations inside Syria.

AQI’s expansion in Syria is a form of blowback as the group ran a facilitation network inside Assad’s country for years. That al Qaeda network operated with the consent of the Syrian president and his goons.

We should not be surprised if CNN’s latest account of the Benghazi attack holds up. For years, eastern Libya provided a disproportionate number of the al Qaeda recruits traveling through AQI’s Syrian pipeline into Iraq to fight the American-led coalition. That is, the al Qaeda network has well-established ties between Libya, Syria and Iraq.

Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – Like al Qaeda in Iraq, AQIM has sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaeda, previously swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and has openly threatened American and Western interests.

Obama administration officials have already suggested that AQIM was connected to the attack in Benghazi. And published reports have added more color to the picture.

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