Benghazi suspect’s release spurs calls to punish Tunisia


Lack of evidence cited by judge

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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.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf expressed disappointment that Mr. Harzi had been released and called on the Obama administration to suspend aid to Tunisia.

“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.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, expressed concern over Mr. Harzi’s release in letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

“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.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said she would introduce legislation that would tie U.S. aid to Libya and Tunisia to their full cooperation with U.S. agencies in the Benghazi investigation.

Mr. Harzi was detained in Turkey in October and extradited to Tunisia on suspicion that he was involved in the consulate attack. FBI agents interrogated him in Tunis in December.

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.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland referred all questions on the case to the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Harzi’s release or the nature of the evidence he may have provided during his interrogation.

“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.

Mr. Wolf said he is “very confident” of Mr. Harzi’s involvement in the Benghazi attack. “He was involved in the attack, he was there,” the congressman said, declining to elaborate.

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.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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