The militants who gathered on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, to torch and kill inside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, were a who’s who of the modern al Qaeda movement, newly declassified documents show.
Since its attacks on the U.S. in 2001, al Qaeda has worked to establish partners outside its base in Pakistan, especially in North Africa and the new fertile territory of eastern Libya and the port city of Benghazi.
All of al Qaeda’s work converged that night in Benghazi, according to a bipartisan report last week by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Global jihadists created a sort of convention of at least four terrorist franchises, complete with rocket-propelled grenades and diesel fuel.
The Senate report, containing newly declassified intelligence data, coincided with the release of once-secret transcripts from the House Armed Services Committee on what the military thought and did that day.
The twin disclosures provide an even fuller picture of who killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs defending a nearby CIA annex. They show that the nation’s most senior military leaders quickly concluded that the carnage was a terrorist attack, even though the White House persisted for more than a week in calling the attack a spontaneous act of irate demonstrators.
“I personally and I think the command very quickly got to the point this was not a demonstration. This was a terrorist attack,” retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, who led U.S. Africa Command at the time, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigation last fall.
The Senate report for the first time spelled out exactly who planned and executed the ambush.
“Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], Ansar al Sharia, AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], and the Muhammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks,” the report states.
Network founder Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, known by his nom de guerre Abu Ahmad al-Masri, trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and returned to Egypt to become al-Zawahri’s operations chief in the Egyptian Jihad.
In designating Jamal a global terrorist in October, the State Department said he had established links to other al Qaeda-connected groups in North Africa and set up a terrorist training camp in Libya. He also wrote letters to al-Zawahri asking “for assistance and described [the network’s] activities, including acquiring weapons, conducting terrorist training, and establishing terrorist groups in the Sinai.”
The State Department said Egyptian authorities arrested Jamal in 2012. The government has declined to say whether he is still in custody.
‘Of course it was an attack’
Another leader of the Benghazi attack with firm al Qaeda connections is Abu Sufian bin Qumu, one of the leaders of Ansar al-Sharia. Qumu trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, worked for bin Laden when the terrorist leader lived in Sudan and fought alongside the Taliban, an al Qaeda ally, until his capture and incarceration at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The U.S. released him to the custody of the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya, which ultimately freed him.