Authors’ Note: Though the report below may be viewed as a stand-alone body of work, we introduce it as Addendum A to Ironclad: Egypt Involved in Benghazi Attacks. This addendum was initiated in response to the testimony of three expert witnesses at a Foreign Affairs Joint Subcommittee Hearing on July 10, 2013. We believe that this report further demonstrates enough probable cause exists that Ansar al-Sharia, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mursi, and the former Egyptian government were all involved in the attack in Benghazi on 9/11/12.
By Walid Shoebat and Ben Barrack
Jihadist and terrorist groups represent two sides of the same coin; it is a distinction without a difference. Congress must be able to rely on experts who understand this fundamental premise.
Yet, at a recent House Foreign Affairs Joint Subcommittee hearing, expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization, relied on this distinction when asked about Ansar al-Sharia by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):
Rohrabacher: So, this (Ansar al-Sharia) is a known terrorist organization?
Gartenstein-Ross: Sir, it’s a known jihadist organization.
If anyone should know about this two-sided coin, it’s Gartenstein-Ross. He converted to Islam in his mid-twenties and worked at the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation but “pulled back” just before becoming radical and left Islam. Al-Haramain was identified in the 9/11 Commission Report as a “Wahhabi-funded organization” that was “exploited by extremists”. Like ‘jihadist’ and ‘terrorist’, ‘wahhabist’ and ‘extremist’ are synonymous terms.
Aaron Zelin, another expert at the hearing, is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute and according to his bio, learned Arabic at various Islamic institutions, including American University in Cairo.
The problem with the likes of Gartenstein-Ross and Zelin, who have collaborated on various reports together, is that confusion seems to run amok. Zelin once wrote the following just one day after the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi (we will come back to this article in greater detail later):
Prior to the 2011 uprising, the country’s main organized jihadist movement, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, had already deradicalized and retired.
As evidence of this, Zelin writes:
Following Qadhafi’s fall, the LIFG split into two political factions that contested the July 2012 legislative elections: the broad-based moderate party Hizb al-Watan (HW), which Belhaj joined, and the smaller, more conservative and Islamist-tinged Hizb al-Umma al-Wasat (HUW)…
Zelin misses that motive and not deradicalization is the factor at play. When Muslim terrorist entities gain political power, they simply switch gears, play politics and wait to gain more, which is ultimately followed by even greater violence. In the meantime, Americans, like Israelis, remain fair game.
As experts, Gartenstein-Ross and Zelin should be quite familiar with the volumes of material – in Arabic – on issues of Islamic flexibility, known as Muruna, which was revived two decades ago. Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi – who in 2009 said that the holocaust was “divine punishment… carried out by Hitler” through Allah and that the Jews “exaggerated this issue” – is perhaps its biggest proponent. Yet, Zelin was quoted as saying the following about Qaradawi last month:
“He’s a pretty popular mainstream cleric in the region. He’s not fringe, he’s got weight behind him.”
“…reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism and human rights.”
Incidentally, Esposito sits on the board of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs (IMMA), which was founded by an al-Qaeda financier named Abdullah Omar Naseef at the behest of the Saudi Royal family. Esposito has collaborated with a Muslim Brotherhood apologist named Dalia Mogahed, for years.
The third expert witness at the subcommittee hearing was Dr. Daniel Byman, also a professor at Georgetown University and who serves as a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institute. Byman serves as a Miller Center Fellowship Mentor, as does Esposito. In an article, Byman appeared to further the myth that terrorists and jihadists are very different and even cited Esposito and Mogahed:
“…a 2006 survey by the scholars John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed found that 93 percent of Egyptians favored a constitution that guaranteed freedom of speech. At the same time, however, Esposito and Mogahed found that a majority wanted Islamic law to be the only source of legislation. In contrast, al Qaeda believes that democracy is blasphemous, arguing that it places man’s word above God’s.”
The implication is that Islamic law (shariah) and democracy can co-exist under Muslim Brotherhood rule; they can’t. The ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohammed Mursi, is just another in a long line of examples that demonstrates this.
Byman also attended the U.S.-Islamic World Forum (IWF), held in Doha, Qatar just last month. Headlined, “A Decade of Dialogue”, the forum’s attendee list was rife with Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters. One of the working groups was convened by Haris Tarin, the Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in Washington, D.C. MPAC has a history of defending terrorist organizations. Last year, Tarin defended Huma Abedin, former deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, when the former’s irrefutable, familial connections to the Brotherhood were questioned by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Abedin served on the board of the IMMA with Esposito, who also defended her against Bachmann.
Others who attended the IWF included:
- Nihad Awad: National Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim Brotherhood group in America.
- Rashad Hussain: Obama administration’s envoy to Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) with Muslim Brotherhood ties.
- John Esposito: Georgetown University Professor mentioned above.
- Dalia Mogahed: Mentioned above.
- Mohamed Magid: President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a Muslim Brotherhood group.
- Mouaz Moustafa: Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF); works in D.C. and lobbies Congress on behalf of Syrian (Muslim Brotherhood) rebels.
- Josh Rogin: Daily Beast writer who referred to Abedin’s familial ties to the Muslim Brotherhood as a “conspiracy theor(y)”.
- Rabbi David Saperstein: A purveyor of interfaith dialogue who vouched for both Abedin and Magid.
There were many more attendees at MWF but perhaps most eyebrow-raising was the attendance of Thomas Pickering, who led and served as Chairman of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) commissioned by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate what happened in Benghazi on 9/11/12. The report was a source of controversy as Pickering decided not to interview Clinton and reached the conclusion that,
“…the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”
Perhaps the most shocking omission was that the group ultimately found to be behind the attack – Ansar al-Sharia – was not mentioned in the report one time.
Intellectuals who traffic in nuance argue that if we allow democracy and equality – even if extremists win the elections – freedom will ultimately prevail. Unfortunately, wishing and hoping that a terrorist organization can become something it’s not, doesn’t make it so.
Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) Brigades
The expert witnesses at the hearing conceded that Mursi very much wanted the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) who is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. A group calling itself The Brigades of the Imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman claimed responsibility for the June 6, 2012 attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound (SMC) in Benghazi. In that attack, a large hole was blown through the perimeter wall of the compound. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, The Brigades recorded a video it says captures the explosion (2:35 mark):
According to SITE, the group posted a communiqué to jihadist forums a few days after that the attack was in response to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi by a drone strike.
According to Alrai Newspaper, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a man with deep al-Qaeda connections who was a leader with the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), voted for Sami al-Saadi and Abdel Wahab Kaid (al-Libi’s brother) during the July 7th elections for the National Conference.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine a couple months after the Benghazi attack, Homeland Security expert Joan Neuhaus Schaan seemed to identify Belhaj’s role in a post-Gadhafi Libya:
The military leader chosen by the post-Gadhafi transitional government was Emir of the Libyan al-Qaeda affiliate Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which was founded upon Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
Indeed, as we reported in October of last year, a letter from the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) to Belhaj, placed the emir of LIFG in charge of security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
Here is that letter:
Neuhaus Schaan also indicated that LIFG and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood were talking just before 9/11/12:
Press reports immediately after the September 11th attack indicated that LIFG was in contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood just prior to the consulate attack.
Now, again consider the article published by the Joint Subcommittee’s expert witness, Aaron Zelin, one day after the Benghazi attack. He appeared to have much of this information already at his disposal. He wrote:
Once the uprising began, the LIFG stuck to its word and did not return to jihadist activities, even changing its name to the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change. As the rebellion unfolded, however, many members of the group joined the armed resistance, where they drew on their prior combat experience; most prominently, LIFG figure Abdul Hakim Belhaj became head of the Tripoli Military Council.
Following Qadhafi’s fall, the LIFG split into two political factions that contested the July 2012 legislative elections: the broad-based moderate party Hizb al-Watan (HW), which Belhaj joined, and the smaller, more conservative and Islamist-tinged Hizb al-Umma al-Wasat (HUW), which most other LIFG members joined under the leadership of prominent figure Sami al-Saadi. HW did not win any seats in the election, while HUW garnered one, which was allocated to Abdul Wahhab al-Qaed, brother of the late Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda figure.
There is nothing suspicious about Zelin having so much information so soon after the attack in Benghazi but that he appeared so ignorant of our information at the hearing is curious. Note too a recurring theme. Zelin is leading the reader to believe that after terrorists get their way, they can morph into political animals who reject violence. Belhaj may have joined a party that identified itself as moderate but Belhaj is no moderate. He is both a jihadist and a terrorist.
ANSAR AL-SHARIA IS A TERRORIST GROUP
Contrary to Gartenstein-Ross’s attempt to assert otherwise, Ansar al-Sharia is a branch of al-Qaeda. Al-Shorouk News states:
“Under the title ‘Ansar Al-Sharia’, Al-Qaeda settles in Egypt.”
Ansar al-Sharia has a 16-point plan to achieve its goals. One of those points states:
“Support the mujahideen [terrorists] and their movements and their communities in various Muslim countries to resist colonization and this comes as a top priority.
A Libyan intelligence document confirms the Benghazi attack was carried out by Ansar al-Sharia:
“The initial investigation shows that the membership of the group [belongs] to the jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt which was established and led by Egyptian cleric Marjan Salem.”
The full name of this individual is Marjan Mustafa Salem Al-Jawhari but he is most commonly known as Abdul Hakim Hassan, code name Abu Amru. Marjan resides in Afghanistan, alongside other terrorists who hide in the mountains.
Of course, when terrorists simply want to be known as jihadists, they deny involvement in terrorist attacks, as Marjan did.
However, in an excellent interview with Marjan, who repeatedly denied several things, an interrogation-style interview caused Marjan to proudly make some astonishing confessions after being drilled by an excellent pro-West Egyptian interviewer on Al-Tahrir (Freedom) TV (translation of key points are transcribed below the video):
Interviewer (1:00): “You were in Afghanistan and Yemen and then you returned to go to Syria, Correct?”
Marjan: “Yes, correct, these are our countries”.
Marjan (2:00) confesses: “Yes we destroyed the embassy in Islamabad because these were filth and cowards …”
Interviewer (2:22): “When you break into churches, homes and blow up banks and cafes…”
(None of these charges were denied by Marjan, including kidnappings in Sinai and the support of terrorists in the Sinai)
Marjan (5:26): “I was going after Russians and Americans.”
Interviewer: “How many Americans did you kill?”
Note: During this interview, the interviewer got Marjan to promise he would release Egyptian soldiers kidnapped and held in the Sinai by Ansar al-Sharia Egypt. Though reports suggest the ouster of Mursi reportedly spawned Marjan’s Ansar al-Sharia in Egypt, a group calling itself Ansar al-Sharia already operates in the Sinai and the younger brother of al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri – Mohammed al-Zawahiri – is a prominent figure within the group.
When told by Rohrabacher of the aforementioned intelligence document and a cell phone video recorded in Benghazi, during the attack, in which at least one gunman can be heard shouting that they were sent by Egypt’s Mursi, Zelin dismissed these items as “not that credible” before saying:
“…there’s no evidence to suggest based off of anything I’ve seen that the Muslim Brotherhood is linked to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya or that any members of the Muslim Brotherhood were involved or that Mohammed Mursi told members of the Muslim Brotherhood to go to Libya to conduct…”
Again, Zelin didn’t appear to be entirely forthcoming about what he knew, especially in light of what information he has access to. In an article he wrote with Gartenstein-Ross one month after the Benghazi attacks, the two experts wrote:
Other released Egyptian inmates seem to have returned to operational and media roles, including Murjan Salim, who has been directing jihadis to training camps in Libya. Figures like Shaykh Jalal al Din Abu al Fatuh and Shaykh Ahmad ‘Ashush, among others, have helped loosely reorganize networks through media outlets al-Bayyan and al-Faruq.
That would be the same Marjan Salem who leads Ansar al-Sharia Egypt. Ashush is also a prominent figure in the group. Gartenstein-Ross and Zelin knew this one month after the Benghazi attacks but appeared to be ignorant of these connections nearly one year later at a House Subcommittee hearing.
Another name that appears in the Libyan Intelligence document is Safwat Hijazy, who along with Mursi, was identified by the six members of Ansar al-Sharia Egypt. Mursi and Hijazy are quite familiar with one another. Hijazi is credited with launching Mursi’s presidential campaign last year. During his speech, with Mursi seated directly behind him, Hijazi spoke of a dream that involved the “United States of the Arabs” with “Jerusalem as the capital”. Mursi can be seen nodding in approval. Note that Al-Nas TV is credited with this broadcast:
It is not insignificant that Mursi, Hijazi, and Saudi businessman Mansour Bin Kadasa (owner of Al-Nas) were all named by captured members of Ansar al-Sharia Egypt, which was founded by Marjan Salem.
According to Al-Ahram, a prominent Egyptian newspaper, along with several others, Egypt’s Ansar Al-Sharia set up training camps to recruit terrorists and provide armed training in Egypt to commit terrorism there after Mursi was ousted.
Ansar Al-Sharia Egypt has been assigned to threaten and kill. On its webpage, they published a list of high-profile individuals they promised to assassinate in Egypt in December 2012. This was published by Al-Yawm Al-Sabi’ (Seventh Day) newspaper in Egypt on December 11th, 2012. The threats include significant leaders Dr. Mohamed El Baradei and Amr Moussa, this according to Ansar Al-Sharia facebook page is in response to the call by Ayman Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda in which they posted his letter. Masress newspaper explained: “… Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leader describes them as traitors and agents of the West customers who want to destroy our beloved Egypt. The names in Ayman al-Zawahiri message: d. Mohamed El Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa.”
More names are mentioned…
“A web page on the social networking site “Facebook”, which calls itself, “Battalion Ansar al-Sharia – Egypt”, created controversy among visitors to the site due to the publishing of threats and a list of figures who would be targeted in the event of what it called “the fall of the state,” on the objectives page and intended to publish the list at this time. List and placed on top media personalities, politicians and some owners satellite channels and businessmen, including Khaled Salah, editor of “The Seventh Day”, and Magdy Al-Jallad chief editor of Al-Watan newspaper, and Yusri Fouda presenter on Channel Online TV, and politicians such as Abu Ezz Hariri, and Ahmad Zind head of the Judges Club, Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister and former candidate for the presidency, and Hamdeen Sabahi, and Dr. Mohamed El Baradei and Amr Moussa.”
It would seem that Ansar al-Sharia is a thuggish terrorist organization bent on bullying institutions and individuals for the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi. As such, the claim made by expert Gartenstein-Ross, that the group is “jihadist”, not “terrorist” would be incorrect.
According to Youm7, another Arabic source, allegiance to Mursi was pledged on the Facebook page:
“The page, which dates its inception on Facebook to July 1, 2012 and wrote in her description of herself a letter addressed to Dr. Mohamed Morsi, President of the Republic. It reads: “A letter to President do not back down and we are with you, even if one of us is killed, we shed our blood as a guardian, each stage has its sacrifices, and we are ready.”
Here is a more extensive list – at the top of which states, “The Battalion of Ansar al-Sharia: Egypt announces the list of personalities it will target if the state [under Mursi] falls – of the names of individuals targeted for assassination. More here and here.
According to the group’s Constitutional Statement, fighting the United States is declared as its first intent:
“The Salafist movement is launched as a Salafist movement to strive to find and resist by word and sword all the projects of colonialism and global hegemony of arrogant states of the infidels and their slaves in the Islamic world, which has become a target for colonization led by America”.
Consider evidence of Ansar Al-Sharia involvement in the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia, via Libya al-Mostakbal:
“Suspected to be the leader of this organization is Saifullah bin Hussein, also known as Abu Ayyad, who fought with al-Qaeda and is said to be the organizer of the attack on the U.S. Embassy [In Tunisia]. It has recently threatened to wage war on the government, accusing Ennahda of pursuing a policy contrary to Islam.”
As Marjan did before him, the spokesman for Ansar Al-Sharia Libya, Hani Al-Mansour, denied any involvement in the Benghazi attack two days after 9/11/12.
The key excerpt comes at the 1:18 mark, where Al-Mansour says:
“The demonstration in front of the embassy we insist was peaceful, but the firing from the embassy on the demonstrators, changed the situation.”
So which is it? Was Ansar Al-Sharia not involved at all or did it become involved after being fired upon?
The Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra)
In April of this year, Al-Jazeera reported that Al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with Al-Nusra in Syria, the main opposition group fighting the Assad regime. Just a few months earlier, Al-Jazeera reported that the United States formally designated Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization and that State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland echoed this sentiment.
Al-Nusra also has a strong presence in Lebanon. Arabi-Press reported that terrorists who gave their allegiance to Al-Nusra in Lebanon are supported by Ansar al-Sharia:
“Mohamed Ahmed Dokhi (aka Khardaq) and Osama Shehabi gave allegiance to Al-Nusra terrorist organization in Lebanon and have become subordinate to it… Hossam Al-Sabbagh is a leader in the front of the Al-Nusra… Sabbagh and Shehabi, are supported by Ansar al-Sharia and the Libyan Nation Brigade who have forged a bridge for military and financial assistance and many (fighters).”
The Masked Brigades
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a confirmed terrorist who was behind the hostage-taking operation in Algeria earlier this year at the Amenas gas facility, is tied to both Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda. The terrorist attack on the plant resulted in the deaths of 39 innocent foreigners. CNN reported on Belmoktar’s stated reason for the attack:
Belmoktar’s demand during the siege for the release from U.S. prisons of Omar Abdul Rahman (the blind sheikh) and Aafia Siddiqi, two hugely popular figures in pro-al Qaeda circles, may have been a calculated effort to boost his popularity.
This demonstrates that the terrorist Belmoktar’s desire to have the “Blind Sheikh” released was a shared desire of Mursi.
As for Belmoktar’s Masked Brigades, Elmihwar reports (translated):
“Hassan Alkhanshali works as a key military adviser to Muhammad Zawahi, the Emir (Prince) of Ansar al-Sharia battalion in Benghazi. Our sources state that Hassan Alkhanshali… worked under the leadership of Abdul Razzaq El Para, fielded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, Prince battalion of the masked brigades, in order to help Mohammed Zahawi on the implementation of terrorist attacks against Western interests (France, Britain and the United States of America). The Algerian security investigations proved that the terrorist (Hassan Alkhanshali) was present in one of the hideouts of Ansar al-Sharia, Libya, during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which led to the killing of the American ambassador in Libya.”
Alkhanshali was working under the leadership of the masked brigades, which was led by Khalid Abu Al-Abbas (Belmoktar)… Algerian intelligence also stated that he plays a major role in other missions in supplying military training to Takfiris (Salafists) from Tunis who reside in secret camps in Libya and he is thought to have transferred important weapons caches to these camps… Derna, Libya is a hub for terrorist recruiting of the best fighters who joined the wars in Iraq, Afganistan and Syria. It also stated that Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, east of Libya, was related to the attack in September against the American diplomatic mission in which the ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
Elmihwar reported that witnesses placed members of this group at the scene of the September 11th attack but Ansar al-Sharia denied involvement in the incident and threw the group out of Benghazi.
One day after the attack in Benghazi, compassion from the Brotherhood was in short supply. In fact, the group blamed the anti-Muhammad video for the deaths, via Massai Ahram (translated):
“For its part, Brotherhood leaders opened fire on the U.S. administration because of the film offending the Prophet,” said Dr. Mahmoud Ghozlan, media spokesman of the group. “The insulting of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in the film, requires us to stand up against the U.S. administration and the film’s producers.”
According to Eric Trager, who works with Zelin at the Washington Institute, Ghozlan is a deputy supreme guide with the Muslim Brotherhood and a colleague of Mursi. As such, a colleague of Mursi blamed the Benghazi attack on the anti-Muhammad video that has since been proven to have nothing to do with the attack.
In summation, the experts who were called to testify in front of the House Foreign Affairs Joint Subcommittee – Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Aaron Zelin, and Daniel Byman – have access to a treasure trove of intelligence information but only seem to present that information on their own terms. It is for this reason that we suggest new experts be consulted on such matters in the future.
Based on what we’ve presented, have another look at the exchange between Rep. Rohrabacher and these expert witnesses:
**UPDATE at 10:30am EST on 8/6/13**
We’d like to call your attention to the interview with Marjan Salem featured above. We wrote the following:
…the interviewer got Marjan to promise he would release Egyptian soldiers kidnapped and held in the Sinai by Ansar al-Sharia Egypt.
We introduce EXHIBIT A-1 (Addendum A, Exhibit 1). It is an excerpt – translated into English – from an article that appeared in Elfagr that speaks of Khairat Al-Shater’s role in both weapons smuggling and the release of kidnapped Egyptian soliders:
“Lawsuits started rolling in by citizens and jurists after sensing the risk of continuing a berth in the government, especially after ignoring the implementation of the provisions of the judiciary to close the tunnels leading to the Gaza Strip. Investigations and prosecutors produced 50 letters from Khairat al-Shater’s own body guard that confirms his smuggling operations of weapons through tunnels, and the use of tunnels to smuggle weapons to Egypt, leaving the border open to terrorists who killed 16 Egyptian soldiers. Petition No. 1010 was filed by attorney Samir Sabry against Mursi to force him to disclose the details regarding the deal, which concluded with the release of the abducted soldiers.”
This release was also discussed by Marjan in the aforementioned interview.
Al-Shater is a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader who was the group’s leading candidate for president last year, before he was replaced by Mursi. This behavior shows that al-Shater (Muslim Brotherhood) and Marjan (Ansar al-Sharia Egypt) share common objectives and goals.