At Foreign Policy’s The Cable, Josh Rogin provides an update on reports connecting a former Guantanamo detainee named Sufyan Ben Qumu to the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Rep. Adam Smith, the Democrats’ ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said today that there is “no evidence” that Qumu was “directly involved.” After a classified briefing on September 21, Smith labeled Qumu a “person of interest” in the consulate attack.
“All I meant was that the person I mentioned has known al Qaeda affiliations and was in Libya. And really, that's it,” Smith said during a conference call with the “left-leaning National Security Network,” according to Rogin. “Whether or not he was directly involved with the people engaged in the attack, there's no evidence of that.”
When this story first broke I commented that “the details of Qumu’s alleged involvement remain to be confirmed,” but “it isn’t surprising that his name has surfaced in intelligence circles.” Qumu had been fingered as a problematic al Qaeda-linked terrorist before September 11 of this year.
I still don’t know if Qumu was “directly involved” in the attack or not. But several intelligence officials I’ve talked to say that members of his Ansar al Sharia militia are suspected of being on the ground during the assault. This is consistent with early press accounts that fingered Ansar al Sharia as the prime suspect. You then get to questions of whether or not Qumu himself was involved.
To add to the confusion, there are multiple groups named Ansar al Sharia in Libya. There is the militia named Ansar al Sharia, which Qumu reportedly leads. Then there is an umbrella group named Ansar al Sharia, which according to some accounts is al Qaeda’s new, overall brand in Libya. (Al Qaeda has launched new groups called Ansar al Sharia in Yemen and elsewhere.) One of the Ansar al Sharia groups, apparently the latter (the umbrella group), has issued a quasi-denial saying it wasn’t involved in the attack.
But members of the Ansar al Sharia militia have been arrested in connection with the attack. CNN reports:
Members of Ansar al Sharia are among the eight people detained in connection with the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya's prime minister said last week, though he added that not all the attackers came from one specific group.
That same CNN report says that “ahead of the consular attack, Ansar al Sharia had organized a protest to decry an inflammatory film that mocks the Prophet Mohammed and also protest the United States, where the film was privately produced.”
Other reports, from CBS News and Fox News, say that there was no protest prior to the terrorist attack in Benghazi.
Here are a couple of points on this, as it now stands.
First, if the Ansar al Sharia militia was involved in the attack, and Qumu leads that militia, then I don’t know that it matters whether intelligence officials can prove Qumu’s “direct” involvement. Simply put, if Qumu’s goons helped carry this out, then that is noteworthy.
Second, if Ansar al Sharia was responsible for organizing some sort of “protest,” then it is safe to say an al Qaeda-linked group was behind even that part of the operation. In other words, if there was a protest, it wasn’t truly spontaneous.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.