Rodan asks: “Why was an Al-Qaeda militia leader at the US Consulate in Benghazi during the attack?”
Well…this dude never came out and admitted he’s with al-Qaeda, but he sure did act as a military leader and he sure wasn’t on our side!
By Hadeel Al Shalchi and Ghaith Shennib
BENGHAZI, Libya | Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:43pm EDT
(Reuters) – A Libyan militia commander who U.S. officials say is under investigation in connection with the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi which led to the death of the ambassador said he was present during the incident but was not one of the ringleaders.
Some American newspapers have quoted unnamed Libyan officials as pointing to Ahmed Abu Khattala as the leader of the attacks on Sept, 11. The newspapers also reported that the officials said Abu Khattala’s whereabouts were unknown.
U.S. government sources told Reuters that Abu Khattala is being investigated as a suspect in the Benghazi consulate attacks though U.S. investigators are not clear at this point if he played a role in leading or organizing the attacks.
The killings of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three colleagues in Benghazi have become a flashpoint in the U.S. election campaign, with Republicans seizing on the issue to accuse President Barack Obama of failed leadership.
In an interview, Abu Khattala told Reuters he had only heard he was a suspect through news media and was surprised that officials had told journalists he was at large.
“These reports say that no one knows where I am and that I am hiding,” he said. “But here I am in the open, sitting in a hotel with you. I’m even going to pick up my sister’s kids from school soon.”
Sitting with a friend in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel, the 41-year-old, sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently.
A Libyan interior minister official close to the investigation told Reuters that a photograph was taken of Abu Khattala at the consulate at the time of the September 11 attacks but there was not enough evidence to arrest him.
“There were many people there from Ansar al-Shariah, from other brigades and from the general public,” the official, who refused to be named, said, referring to the hardline Islamist militia group which has been blamed for the attack.
“Just because someone is there doesn’t mean they were behind it.”
Abu Khattala denied being a leader of Ansar al-Shariah, but said he was friendly with the group and knew its membership well.
A U.S. official said there may be more than person taking a lead role in the group.
“Ansar al-Shariah is a factionalized militant group without one home address,” the official told Reuters. “There may be several military commanders playing a role in its activities.”
Abu Khattala said that on the night of September 11, he received a phone call telling him that an attack on the U.S. consulate was in progress and that he then went to the scene.
“I arrived at the street parallel to the consulate and waited for other brigade leaders to show me the way to the buildings,” he said. “I arrived at the scene just like the others did — to see what was happening.”
He said that after he arrived at the consulate, he began to help direct traffic with other militia leaders.
“People were crashing into each other because of the chaos and there was sporadic shooting,” he said.
Abu Khattala said he called the commanders of Benghazi’s security forces — the February 17 brigade and the Supreme Security Committee — and told them to remove their cars and people from the consulate to avoid clashes.
In other words, Abu Khattala was the one who told the local security forces who were supposed to be guarding the Benghazi compound to leave.
“Soon after I made my calls, one of the guards told me that four men were detained in a building inside the compound who had been shooting at the demonstrators,” he said.
“By the time I arrived at the building the men had already escaped. At that point I left the scene and didn’t return.”
Here are just a few take-home lessons from the Benghazi debacle:
- The State Department, and ultimately the White House, are responsible for deploying well-armed US forces in adequate numbers to guard every US embassy, consulate, mission, or what-have-you.
- If it is impossible to guard those premises with US forces, then there’s no need to continue diplomatic relations with that country.
- Never hire an inexperienced foreign-based security firm for diplomatic security.
- Never make a contract with any security company that allows it to outsource its responsibilities to local forces.
- If your security has fallen into the hands of a gang of local goons who call themselves the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, whose loyalty is patently dubious, and some of whom have already tried to attack you before, you just might have a problem.
- Fighting on both sides of the same “war on terror” is a losing proposition from the get-go.
- Finally, al Qaeda is always quick to bite the hands that feed it.