A Tunisian judge’s decision to release the only man arrested in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has angered congressional Republicans, with one lawmaker demanding that the U.S. cut off millions of dollars in aid to newly democratic Tunisia.
Ali Harzi, 26, of Tunisia, was released Monday due to a lack of evidence against him, his lawyer said. His release dealt a blow to a slow-paced investigation into the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
“For months following the attack, the Tunisian government blocked the FBI from interviewing Harzi,” said Mr. Wolf, Virginia Republican. “Now they allow the guy, who has been involved in killing four Americans, to walk the streets of Tunisia.”
Noting that the U.S. has provided $320 million in aid to Tunisia since 2011, Mr. Wolf said: “I find it morally wrong to support a country that has obstructed FBI efforts to bring these terrorists to justice.”
“The fact that this suspect linked to the Benghazi attack has been released is troubling on many fronts,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen told The Washington Times.
“It has been nearly four months since the attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, and we have yet to hold any person or persons accountable for this atrocious act of terror perpetrated against the United States,” she said. “It raises further concerns over the ability and willingness of the Tunisian and Libyan governments to contribute to the investigation and assist U.S. agencies leading the effort to find those responsible and bring them to justice.”
Mr. Harzi’s lawyer, Anwar Oued-Ali, said his client had been “conditionally freed” and described the release as “correcting an irregular situation” because authorities never had any real evidence, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Harzi must remain in the greater Tunis area in case he is needed by the court.
“The FBI continues to pursue all investigative leads into the deaths of the four Americans who were killed in Benghazi on Tuesday, September 11, 2012,” Kathleen Wright, the FBI spokeswoman, said in response to a question on the status of the investigation.
Libyan sources have identified Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Benghazi-based Islamist, as having led the attack on the consulate.
Mr. Abu Khattala, who has acknowledged being at the consulate at the time of the attack, has not been arrested. He has been linked to Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamist group that U.S. intelligence officials suspect was behind the attack.
Mr. Abu Khattala escaped an assassination attempt Sunday, when a bomb exploded as two men tried to plant it under his car in Benghazi. One of the would-be assassins was killed in the blast.
The investigation into the consulate attack has made little headway because of Libya’s weak central government and militias that have taken the law into their own hands.