On and around September 11, 2012, al Qaeda attacked multiple American assets around the world. The attack that has received the most attention is the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. But the U.S. consulate in Libya was not the only diplomatic facility assaulted by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in September. Terrorists with ties to al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, were involved in at least three other U.S. embassy sieges in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and possibly elsewhere.
A timeline of these assaults is presented below.
Egypt (September 11) – Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, admitted to helping organize the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Mohammed al Zawahiri is a longtime Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative who was jailed in Egypt until earlier this year. The EIJ is a core part of al Qaeda’s joint venture. Both the EIJ and Gamaa Islamiya (IG), another close ally of al Qaeda, planned to protest outside of the U.S. embassy in Cairo before the anti-Islam film became known.
The day before the embassy protest in Cairo, on September 10, al Qaeda released a video of Ayman al Zawahiri, who called on jihadists to exact revenge for the death of Abu Yahya al Libi. A drone strike killed Abu Yahya in June, making the al Qaeda chieftain’s delayed eulogy curious.
Ayman al Zawahiri used the video to argue that al Qaeda has not been defeated because senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in northern Pakistan and elsewhere. Instead, Ayman al Zawahiri said, al Qaeda’s “message has spread amongst our Muslim Ummah, which received it with acceptance and responded to it.”
The video then cuts to a clip of Mohammed al Zawahiri, who has made similar arguments in his post-detention interviews. During an interview with CNN earlier this year, the younger Zawahiri said that al Qaeda’s strength is “not in its leaders but in its ideology.”
Demonstrators at U.S. embassy protest in Cairo chanted, “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama!”
One can speculate that embassy protests and riots were intended to demonstrate the Zawahiris’ point.
Libya (September 11) – Multiple al Qaeda-affiliated groups have been linked to the complex assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. These groups include al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Ansar al Sharia militia, which is headed by an ex-Guantanamo detainee and known al Qaeda operative named Sufyan Ben Qumu. Members of the Ansar al Sharia militia were in contact with AQIM in the hours after the attack, Eli Lake reported at The Daily Beast.
Other al Qaeda personalities have been linked the terrorist assault as well. One of them, according to the Wall Street Journal, is Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) who was released from prison last year. Some sources have identified Ahmad as a senior EIJ leader prior to his imprisonment.
The Journal reports that Ahmad “has petitioned” Ayman al Zawahiri, “to whom he has long ties, for permission to launch an al Qaeda affiliate and has secured financing from al Qaeda's Yemeni wing.” Ahmad “is building his own terror group, say Western officials, who call it the Jamal Network.” And “[f]ighters linked” to Ahmad are thought to have taken part in the attack on the consulate.
The Journal added another intriguing detail: “U.S. officials believe [Mohammed al Zawahiri] has helped Mr. Ahmad connect with the al Qaeda chief.” EIJ members are suspected of funneling Egyptian militants to training camps in Libya as well.