The Washington Post reports that “the CIA and other intelligence analysts have settled on what amounts to a hybrid view” of September 11, 2012, “suggesting that the Cairo protest sparked militants in Libya, who quickly mobilized an assault on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.”
What the Post doesn’t say is that the Cairo protest was itself an al Qaeda-infused, if not outright orchestrated, event.
The “hybrid” explanation is a compromise, of sorts, between two competing narratives. The first suggested that a protest against an anti-Islam film in Benghazi led to a “spontaneous” assault on the US consulate there. We know that version isn’t true because there never was any protest in Benghazi. The second narrative points to a terrorist attack. The weaponry involved in the assault, the sophistication of the operation and, most importantly, the involvement of al Qaeda-linked terrorists all buttress this second version.
While there was no film protest in Benghazi, however, there are reasons to suspect that the events in Egypt and Libya on Sept. 11 are linked. But that link isn’t an anti-Islam film. They are linked by the fact that known al Qaeda-affiliated individuals were directly involved in both.
It is not a coincidence that an al Qaeda flag was raised in the place of the stars and stripes in Cairo, or that protesters chanted: “Obama! Obama! We are all Osama!”
Keep in mind, too, that al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri has cited the Cairo protest, along with the attack in Benghazi and a similar protest in Yemen, as “defeats” for the U.S.
Let’s look at the key personalities involved in Cairo protest. The following four individuals attended the protest in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and helped to incite protesters.
Mohammed al Zawahiri – He is the younger brother of Ayman al Zawahiri. He admittedly helped organize the Cairo protest. While Mohammed al Zawahiri has been coy about his ties to the al Qaeda organization, he has openly professed his adherence to al Qaeda’s ideology. And U.S. intelligence officials contacted by THE WEEKLY STANDARD say there is strong evidence he remains “operationally” involved in the terror network.
Rifai Ahmed Taha Musa – He was a leader of Gamaa Islamiyya (IG), a designated terrorist organization with numerous ties to al Qaeda. Taha Musa was a signatory on al Qaeda’s February 1998 fatwa justifying terrorist attacks against American civilians. Taha Musa later claimed that he did not sign the fatwa, but his al Qaeda ties are beyond dispute. He appeared in 2000 video sitting between Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. The three called for the spiritual head of the IG, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (also known as the “Blind Sheikh”), to be freed from prison. Rahman is imprisoned in the U.S. for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a follow-on plot against New York City landmarks. The Blind Sheikh is still revered by al Qaeda. Taha Musa is Rahman’s longtime terrorist accomplice, and has compiled an extensive dossier of violence.
In a recent interview, Taha Musa openly praised Ayman al Zawahiri and says he should be allowed to return to Egypt.
Sheikh ‘Adel Shehato – Egyptian authorities arrested Shehato and accused him of founding the Nasr City terrorist cell. That cell hasn’t received much attention in the American press, but Egyptian authorities have alleged that its members were involved in the Benghazi attack. Shehato is an official in Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a terrorist organization headed by Ayman al Zawahiri that long ago merged with al Qaeda. Mohammed al Zawahiri also belongs to the EIJ. Shehato has openly proclaimed his allegiance to al Qaeda’s ideology.
Sheikh Tawfiq Al ‘Afani – He is also an EIJ official. Along with the three jihadists listed above, he was released from prison following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Al ‘Afani openly praises al Qaeda in his public lectures. During the Cairo protest, Al ‘Afani repeated the widely heard refrain: “O Obama, we are all Osama…”
All four of the individuals mentioned above attended the Cairo protest and helped incite protesters.
A fifth senior jihadist who helped incite protests in Cairo is Ahmed ‘Ashoush, who is so liked by Ayman al Zawahiri that al Qaeda includes clips of ‘Ashoush in its official productions regularly.
While we don’t know for certain if ‘Ashoush personally attended the 9/11 protest in Cairo, he definitely stirred anti-American anger in Egypt. On September 16, less than a week after the protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, 'Ashoush released a fatwa online calling for the makers of the film “Innocence of Muslims” to be killed. After 'Ashoush's fatwa was released, the Associated Press reported that he is an “al Qaeda-linked Egyptian jihadist...who was believed close to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's current No. 1, Ayman al Zawahiri.”
And then there is the case of Muhammad Jamal al Kashef (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed), yet another EIJ official who has been tied directly to the attack in Benghazi. Egyptian authorities have said that Jamal is a leader of the Nasr City cell, the same one founded by Sheikh Shehato.
Jamal established terrorist camps in eastern Libya. Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that terrorists trained in Jamal’s Libyan camps took part in the assault in Benghazi. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Jamal “petitioned” Ayman al Zawahiri for permission to set up his own al Qaeda affiliate and that Jamal received financing from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In 2007, Jamal, who was then imprisoned, signed a statement rebutting a critique of al Qaeda’s ideology. Mohammed al Zawahiri, Sheikh Tawfiq al 'Afani, and Ahmed 'Ashoush also signed the statement in support of al Qaeda. And it just so happens that all four men were directly involved in the events of this past September. So, there is something to the “hybrid view” of September 11, 2012. But that something points to al Qaeda.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.