Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the foreign aid appropriations subcommittee, is threatening Tunisia with a possible suspension of U.S. assistance if the country refuses to allow U.S. authorities access to a suspect arrested in connection with the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
In a letter to the Tunisian charge d’affaires to the United States, Tarek Amri, Mr. Graham requested immediate access to the suspect, Ali Ani al Harzi, a Tunisian who allegedly was caught on video during the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“I urge you to engage your government to ensure cooperation between our intelligence services, law enforcement officials, as well as their Libyan counterparts, so that we may question this individual about the horrific attacks that cost us the lives of four brave Americans,” he wrote. “Please be informed that providing access to this suspect is of the highest importance to me and many other members of Congress.”
If reports that the Tunisian government is denying U.S. officials access to the suspect are true, Mr. Graham said, U.S. aid to Tunisia and the partnership between the two countries is in “serious jeopardy.”
“As with any investigation, time is of the essence and every day that goes by is a lost opportunity,” he continued. “I would appreciate an immediate response. The Tunisian response to this situation is of utmost importance and could have profound impacts on the relations between our two countries moving forward.”
During an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, Mr. Graham told Greta Van Susteren that Mr. Harzi could be connected to al Qaeda, and if so, his alleged involvement in the assault could show a disconcerting level of communication within the terrorist network that was thought to have been disrupted by the death of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders.
“It would be very disturbing if al Qaeda operatives in Libya can talk to al Qaeda operatives in Tunisia,” he said. “That shows they have a regional effect.”
“So if this guy from Tunisia was able to come down to Benghazi, Libya, that means they’re talking to each other in a way we haven’t seen before,” Mr. Graham added.
When it comes to answering questions about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya, Mr. Graham accused the Obama administration of trying “to run out the clock” to Election Day without having to respond to lingering questions about the assault.
“This storm is a terrible thing for Americans, and I appreciate what President Obama is doing to try to help people,” Mr. Graham said, referring to Hurricane Sandy. “But I wish he’d give some attention in Benghazi, Libya, when it would have mattered. There was an al Qaeda storm brewing there for months.”