State Caves a bit on Benghazi; still avoids Egypt Link

The State Department has identified Ansar Al-Sharia and its leaders as terrorist organizations and terrorists respectively, something we (and others) demonstrated several months ago. Let’s see, well over a year after the Benghazi attack, State has conceded something that was beyond painstakingly obvious within hours of that attack. There is something else that is quite obvious State doesn’t seem too interested in conceding – an Egyptian connection to the Benghazi attack. It is a case we have been making for several months.

Al-Kashif: Benghazi suspect in Egyptian jail (shouts while holding photo of bin Laden)

Al-Kashif: Benghazi suspect in Egyptian jail (shouts while holding photo of bin Laden)

Perhaps there is no better anecdote available to demonstrate the sheer incompetence and malice of the Obama administration than the background of one of the State Department’s most recent terrorist designees – Ahmed Abu Khattala. He is identified as the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia in Benghazi.

Khattala also led another groupthe Al-Jarrah Brigade – which spawned the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, in a way similar to how the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) spawned the Weather Underground. A shared ideology was trumped by tactical differences.

If F17MB sounds familiar, the group was hired to provide security at the Benghazi compound prior to the attacks. Last year, under sworn testimony, State Department whistleblower Gregory Hicks stated the following about the group’s involvement in the attack (h/t CNS News):

“Certainly, elements of that militia were complicit in the attacks,” Greg Hicks, the State Department’s former deputy chief of mission in Libya told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. “The attackers had to make a long approach march through multiple checkpoints that were manned by February 17 militia.”

Consider that Khattala, the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia, once led a group out of which the F17MB was formed. This alone might help explain why the Obama administration would not want to identify him so quickly – but there’s plenty more.

The State Department is doing all it can to distance itself from the lengthy December 28th New York Times piece by David Kirkpatrick, without completely discrediting him in the process, though it appears to have failed in the latter regard. For example, Kirkpatrick insisted there were no international terror groups involved in the attack, Al-Qaeda was not involved, there was only local Libyan involvement, and that Ahmed Abu Khattala was the central figure.

Via State Department website:

The Department of State has announced the designations of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi, Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah, and Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia as separate Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities under section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. In addition to these group designations, the Department of State has also designated Ahmed Abu Khattalah, Sufian bin Qumu, and Seifallah Ben Hassine, commonly known as “Abou Iyadh,” as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under E.O. 13224.

Despite apparent attempts by State to thread the needle between making such an admission and not totally destroying Kirkpatrick, that aforementioned designation of bin Qumu in particular should do to Kirkpatrick what Dylan Davies did to Lara Logan. Here is what Kirkpatrick wrote about bin Qumu:

Mr. Qumu had been apprehended in Pakistan in 2001 and detained for six years at Guantánamo Bay before returning home to Derna, a coastal city near Benghazi that was known for a high concentration of Islamist extremists.

But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.

Sufian bin Qumu: State Dept designation does Kirkpatrick no favors.

Sufian bin Qumu: State Dept designation does Kirkpatrick no favors.

We may be getting closer to why State was so reticent to out bin Qumu. Despite Kirkpatrick’s attempt to say he “return(ed) home” from Gitmo, which implies Qumu left Gitmo of his own volition, someone released him. This implicates – in the murder of four Americans – whomever made the decision to do so. As for Kirkpatrick’s claim that Qumu played no ‘significant role’ in the Benghazi attack, well, the State Department’s press release essentially blows up his credibility. Applying the Lara Logan standard, Kirkpatrick should be put on hiatus an publicly shamed. Not doing so appears somewhat sexist if we apply another standard – the left’s standard.

Remember what else Kirkpatrick said:

no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

That would seem to indicate that Ansar Al-Sharia wasn’t behind the attacks either, just angry locals. The needle Kirkpatrick tried to thread was that Khattala was at the scene, he was “embedded in the network of Benghazi militias”, and that the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia in Benghazi – Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi – is nothing more than “one of his allies”.

Mohammad al-Zahawi (note the al-Qaeda flag).

Mohammad al-Zahawi (note the al-Qaeda flag).

Hang on. Al-Zahawi is the leader of Ansar Al-Sharia in Benghazi? Not according to the State Department’s recent release:

Ahmed Abu Khattalah is a senior leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Sufian bin Qumu is the leader of Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah.

If Ansar Al-Sharia in Benghazi is now officially a terrorist organization, doesn’t that necessarily make al-Zahawi one too? Why isn’t his name included in the release? Not identifying the wide range of individuals and groups the administration must know is involved is beyond disconcerting.

Consider how like-minded both al-Zahawi and Khattala seem to be. In a 2012 interview with the BBC, al-Zahawi spoke of his position on al-Qaeda:

His brigade was not linked to al-Qaeda though he thoroughly approves of its strategy, he said.

Al-Zahawi said the following about al-Qaeda’s number one, Ayman al-Zawahiri:

“Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri is keen on safeguarding Muslim rights.”

Here is Khattala’s position on al-Qaeda, as relayed by Kirkpatrick last month:

Mr. Abu Khattala said he had no connections to Al Qaeda. But he never hid his admiration for its vision.

Further drawing Khattala closer to al-Qaeda is the other leader of Ansar Al-Sharia – in Darnah – Sufian bin Qumu. Here is what Long War Journal’s Thomas Joscelyn wrote about him:

…Ben Qumu worked as a driver for a company owned by bin Laden in the Sudan, fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and maintained ties to several other well-known al Qaeda leaders.

Note: There is plenty of legal precedent which states that being so much as a driver for a terrorist can make said driver an enemy combatant.

While the State Department identified Ansar Al-Sharia in Tunisia and its leader as a terror organization and terrorist respectively, it continues to avoid – at least publicly – an Egyptian connection to the Benghazi attack. Once again, that leads to – at a minimum – the Jamal Network, which is headquartered in Egypt, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, led by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi at the time. Read more about those connections in our “Ironclad” Report.

Sufian bin Qumu: Finally designated as a terrorist (after serving in Gitmo).

Sufian bin Qumu: Finally designated as a terrorist (after serving in Gitmo).

Try as one might, al-Zahawi, Khattala, and bin Qumu all have one very distinct thing in common – a connection to al-Qaeda. Do you know who else does?

The namesake of the Egyptian Jamal Network – Muhammad Jamal Abdo Al-Kashif. Specifically, Al-Kashif has very close connections to al-Qaeda number one, Ayman al-Zawhiri as well. Lest one doubts that, consider a State Department press release from October 7, 2013 in which it identified Al-Kashif as a terrorist and his network as a terror organization in much the same way that it identified Ansar Al-Sharia leaders this week. Here is the relevant excerpt from the October release:

Jamal formed the MJN after his release from Egyptian prison in 2011 and established several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya. AQAP has provided funding to the MJN and Jamal has used the AQAP network to smuggle fighters into training camps. Suicide bombers have trained at MJN training camps, and Jamal established links with terrorists in Europe.

Jamal was re-arrested by Egyptian authorities in November 2012. His confiscated computer contained letters to al-Zawahiri in which Jamal asked for assistance and described MJN’s activities, including acquiring weapons, conducting terrorist training, and establishing terrorist groups in the Sinai.

In the wake of a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing last July, in which Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced our work into the Congressional record, we introduced Addendum A into our “Ironclad” Report. Much of what spawned this was the testimony of expert witness Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who attempted to split hairs, insisting that Ansar Al-Sharia was a “jihadist” organization, not a “terrorist” organization.

We now know that is an unhelpful and erroneous distinction as it is one without a difference. There is obviously cross-pollination within these militias that Americans are unable or unwilling to sift through.

Again, the Obama administration is going out of its way to avoid implicating Ansar Al-Sharia Egypt – or any Egyptian group, like the Jamal Network – in the attacks, despite an admission by Accountability Review Board (ARB) Chairman Thomas Pickering – in sworn congressional testimony – that there was an Egyptian group involved. As we have chronicled multiple times, Pickering appears to have inadvertently revealed that as it was part of his classified report, not the unclassified one that was released to the public.

The central question remains: Why is the Obama administration so insistent that an Egyptian connection to the Benghazi attack not be revealed?

We think we have a good idea what the answer might be.

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