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More Al Qaeda Connections in Benghazi

10:20 AM, Oct 25, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On September 26, during a speech at the U.N. , Secretary of State Hillary Clinton connected the Benghazi attack to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies inside Libya. AQIM and “other groups” have a “larger safe haven” and “increased freedom to maneuver,” Clinton warned. This allows them “to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.” And, Clinton added, “they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”

Two days later, on September 28, Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reported that the terrorists who led the attack were in contact with members of AQIM. “In the hours following the 9/11 anniversary attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya,” Lake reported, “U.S. intelligence agencies monitored communications from jihadists affiliated with the group that led the attack and members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s North African affiliate.” The jihadists who contacted AQIM included members of the Ansar al Sharia militia (discussed below).

AQIM’s rise has been deeply unsettling. The group, along with its allies, controls a large portion of northern Mali. In addition to targeting local Muslims, especially Sufis, AQIM has made its intent to attack Western interests clear. Some have tried to pretend that AQIM is not really part of al Qaeda’s global jihad, but that is simply false.

Kidnapping Western tourists has been one of the group’s main sources of revenue for years. The official United Nations web page discussing AQIM notes that after the group’s “formal alliance” with al Qaeda in 2006, “AQIM expanded its aims and declared its intention to attack Western targets.”

“In late 2006 and early 2007,” the U.N.’s web page continues, AQIM “conducted several attacks against convoys of foreign nationals in Algeria.” Then, in December 2007, “AQIM attacked the United Nations office in Algiers, killing 17, at the same time as it attacked the Algerian Constitutional Council.”

In the wake of the attack in Benghazi, AQIM has called for more attacks on American diplomats. AQIM leaders have also said that they intend to target France.

Ansar al Sharia militia (AAS) – In the wake of the Arab Spring, multiple groups calling themselves Ansar al Sharia have sprung up. Ansar al Sharia in Yemen is a known front for al Qaeda. The State Department designated Ansar al Sharia in Yemen an “alias” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) earlier this month. The precise relationship between the various Ansar al Sharia groups, including inside Libya and across countries, remains unclear. The State Department’s designation deals solely with AAS in Yemen, but known al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists operate other AAS chapters.

An Ansar al Sharia militia in Libya is known to have taken part in the Benghazi attack. As with AQIM, some have tried to portray AAS in Benghazi as a strictly local actor that is uninterested in al Qaeda’s global jihad. But this is demonstrably false. Members of the group took part in an attack on a U.S. consulate, thereby demonstrating their clear animosity for America and the West. And members of AAS in Benghazi were the ones who reportedly contacted AQIM both before and after the terrorist attack. This provides a tangible link between AAS and al Qaeda’s global affiliate network.

A report (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) published by the Library of Congress in August, in cooperation with the Defense Department, identified Ansar al Sharia in Libya as part of al Qaeda’s clandestine network. The report said that 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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