Tag Archives: Ansar al-Sharia

Abu Khattala’s capture is an I-told-you-so moment for Obama. But it could be short-lived.

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President Obama has long described the political aftermath of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, as a “sideshow,” a running series of partisan theatrics designed to embarrass the administration and inflame the conservative base.

It is now, for the first time in nearly two years, at the center of the American political conversation on terms Obama very much favors.

The weekend capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on a U.S. diplomatic compound and a CIA-run annex, gives Obama another I-told-you-so moment in Washington’s scorekeeping culture.

But the achievement is likely to do little to tamp down the partisan fervor surrounding the administration’s public management of the deadly Benghazi attacks, a still-raw political legacy of the 2012 presidential campaign that continues to preoccupy Republican lawmakers and their most ardent supporters on the right.

How Obama decides to talk about Abu Khattala’s capture in the coming weeks may close the alternately infuriating and baffling episode for many Americans beyond the Beltway. Obama promised to bring to justice the killers of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and now, one of the alleged culprits is in U.S. hands.

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”

A portrait of Ahmed Abu Khattala, as confirmed by two sources to The Washington Post. (Facebook)

For many in Washington, though, Benghazi has never been primarily about the attacks.

The capture does little to explain how the administration devised a set of “talking points,” requested at the time by members of Congress prepping for news media questions, that Republicans have come to view as a politically calculated obfuscation that helped shield Obama’s reelection effort from criticism.

That has been the Republican emphasis — and it is likely to remain so, given that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, warming up to the idea of a presidential run in 2016, remains vulnerable. Recent polling suggests that much of the public, despite administration protests that the issue is a distraction from more pressing concerns, wants additional answers.

Within hours of the news that Abu Khattala had been captured, congressional Republicans congratulated the U.S. military, if not the White House.

But the partisan concern shifted quickly to the questions of where Abu Khattala would be held, at a time when Obama is seeking to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and whether the president would extend legal protections given to civilians charged with crimes.

The answers from the administration — no to Guantanamo, yes to due process — disappointed some prominent conservatives.

“The American people and the families of the victims deserve answers on this attack,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “As with all detained al Qaeda affiliated extremists, I hope Abu Khattala will be treated as an enemy combatant and interrogated to the fullest extent possible. Obtaining information and intelligence from this terrorist must be our first priority.”

The capture recalls the May 2011 mission in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, a measured gamble that focused public opinion around Obama’s foreign policy competence and commitment to respect the legacy of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

It convinced most voters that the president elected to end the nation’s post-9/11 wars could still fight overseas, using intelligence, Special Operations forces and drones rather than vast armies. The public at the time agreed, pushing up his approval rating by nearly double digits within days of the bin Laden raid.

But like that one, this operation, too, may have a short-lived political benefit.

National security tactics and American global strategy are vastly different matters, and Obama’s foreign-policy-by-Special-Ops has proved in the past to have a political shelf life far shorter than he would like. The nine-point bump Obama received in the polls in the days after announcing bin Laden’s death had evaporated a month later.

Iraq, the nation’s most controversial post-9/11 project, is crumbling along sectarian lines under the crush of an armed Sunni Muslim insurgency. Syria is failing as a state, both in its governance and its territorial structure, with its eastern border fading as a line in Iraq’s western desert.

Post-revolution and now post-coup Egypt is again in the hands of the kind of military strongman Obama had pledged to no longer support in the name of stability. A newly ambitious Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine — and appears to be feeling little pressure to return it under U.S.-led international economic sanctions.

The American public has noticed, even as its post-9/11 wars come to an end. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published this month found that 41 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama manages international affairs, the lowest rating of his presidency.

But it is more than simply the array of faltering foreign places currently occupying Obama’s foreign policy agenda that may make the capture less important than the White House might hope.

It is also the nature of Benghazi, now like a Brazilian soccer star who needs only a single name, as a political issue that makes it particularly resistant to resolution.

Since the attacks, Benghazi has become the angry shorthand used by conservatives to describe what many of them view as Obama’s politically calibrated — and often feckless — foreign policy.

The assault, found to be a coordinated attack made amid the confusion provided by an anti-American demonstration, occurred during a bitter reelection contest.

In a race largely about the U.S. economy, Obama nonetheless relied on a reputation for competence and pragmatism in managing foreign affairs, as well as a national security policy that while reducing American forces abroad had “decimated,” in his words, al-Qaeda’s leadership.

Benghazi challenged Obama’s contention that he had al-Qaeda on the run.

Most worrisome to the president’s political team was Benghazi’s fading effect on the glow still surrounding the bin Laden mission, which Obama had celebrated a few months earlier with a series of speeches and campaign videos that made him a star of the story.

In the first days after the Benghazi assaults, the administration’s confused response began, in Washington and on the campaign trail at least, to seem to some Republicans as more significant than the security failure itself and what that failure said about Obama’s foreign policy. Stevens, 52, was the first serving U.S. ambassador killed in more than three decades.

Only a year earlier, Obama had opened a third U.S.-led war in a Muslim nation to protect the rebellious enclave of Benghazi from Moammar Gaddafi. Far from grateful, the city, seething as part of the wider anti-American unrest across the Islamic world, had turned sharply on its ostensible saviors.

Republicans focused on the administration’s messaging, rather than on whether Obama’s commitment to Libya had faltered or whether, even more essentially, his broader outreach to the Islamic word had been ill-conceived all along.

But recent polling has shown that Benghazi still resonates with much of the country, namely the questions many Republicans say remain unanswered despite a series of congressional hearings.

Those include where Obama was at the time of the attacks, how and why they were carried out, and who in the administration decided to emphasize a spontaneous protest as the root of the assaults rather than terrorist planning.

How raw and unresolved Benghazi remains, particularly on the right, was visible this week at a forum hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

A Muslim woman questioning the consensus view at the meeting that Islam is the enemy was challenged by an angry crowd, after hearing from panelists who, among other charges, accused Obama of seeking to impose sharia law in the United States.

Republicans in Congress have remained closer to the attacks and the administration’s response than some of their conservative supporters. But the level of persistence remains years and many committee hearings after the event.

Last week, members of Congress pressed FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. for a sense of the administration’s progress on finding Abu Khattala, part of the designated terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia, and whether he believed the U.S. government had the legal authority to apprehend him if located.

“In terms of Benghazi and the perpetrators, would you say at this point that finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice is purely a matter for law enforcement?” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) asked Comey during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

“No,” Comey said. “I would say as in any case, especially terrorism cases, all instruments of U.S. power are brought to bear.”

“But is your understanding — because it is my understanding that the administration’s position is — that they do not have the legal authority to lethally engage Ansar al-Sharia or whoever you want to say committed those attacks?” Goodlatte persisted.

“I don’t want to talk about how I’m approaching that investigation because I don’t want to give anything away to the bad guys,” Comey said.

On Tuesday, Obama had a new set of talking points about Benghazi and its epilogue.

Like congressional Republicans, he thanked the military, law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community for the mission. He also sought to head off accusations that he is moving on from Benghazi, saying the pursuit of all those behind the attacks will proceed.

“We will remain vigilant against all acts of terrorism,” Obama said in a statement, echoing the phrase he first used in the Rose Garden the day after the assaults, “and we will continue to prioritize the protection of our service members and civilians overseas.”

 The Washington Post.

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Benghazi attack suspect captured by American team, en route to US

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A suspected terrorist linked to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack that killed four Americans has been captured inside Libya by U.S. forces and currently is en route to the United States, Fox News has learned.

Sources told Fox News that the suspect, Ansar al-Sharia commander Ahmed Abu Khattala, was captured Sunday during a joint U.S. military and law enforcement operation, and will face prosecution in the United States.

President Obama signed off on the mission on Friday night, Fox News is told. Khattala was captured south of Benghazi by U.S. special operators and is on his way to the U.S. aboard a Navy ship.

Khattala was long thought to be one of the ringleaders of the deadly attack, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died. He had openly granted media interviews since the 2012 attack, but until now evaded capture.

The capture marks the first time the United States has caught one of the suspects in the 2012 assault.

“He didn’t know what hit him,” one source told Fox News of the capture. According to sources, there was no firefight — a small Special Forces team with one FBI agent took part in the mission.

White House and Pentagon officials publicly confirmed the capture late Tuesday morning. In a written statement, Obama said: “The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans.”

He thanked the “painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel,” and said the suspect would “now face the full weight of the American justice system.”

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans. We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks,” Obama said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby called Khattala a “key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.” He said there were no civilian casualties in the weekend operation, and all U.S. personnel have “safely departed” Libya.

The administration has faced sustained criticism from some in Congress and the families of the victims over the fact that no one had been brought to justice since that day in 2012.

State Department official Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were also killed during the attack. Khattala’s capture came 642 days later.

With Khattala expected to face prosecution in a U.S. court, the administration already is being pressed to hold off on reading him his Miranda rights until he is interrogated.

“I am pleased that Khattala is finally in U.S. custody, and I am grateful for the military, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals who helped capture him,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement, adding: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khattala faces three counts in the federal complaint against him, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

They are: killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility; providing or attempting to provide support to terrorists resulting in death; and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department retains the option of adding additional charges.

“Our nation’s memory is long and our reach is far,” Holder said in a statement, adding: “Even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators.”

Khattala, until this past weekend, had loomed as an almost taunting presence. A month after the attack, he admitted to Fox News that he was at the scene of the attack, though claimed he did not plan it. At the time, he claimed he was just directing traffic and looking after fellow militia members guarding the complex.

He offered no remorse, though, for the killing of four Americans. At the time, he said he had not yet been contacted by U.S. officials.

“Leave Libya or be buried here” Hafter warns Ansar Al-Sharia

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In a swingeing attack on Ansar Al-Sharia, Operation Dignity leader General General Khalifa Hafter warned today that foreign militants who did quit Libya would die here.

“All terrorists who have entered Libya should leave it or they will be buried in it” he said in an interview on the Al-Arabiya TV channel.

He also accused Qatar of being behind a plot to kill him. “The assassination attempt that targeted us was carried out by Ansar Al-Sharia and supported and planned by Qatar and Libyan Fighting Group. It was an unsuccessful attempt”.

Hafter told the interviewer: “We are stronger than before in the level of equipment and forces and we do not need any support because the men and munitions are available”.

He added:”I assure you that 80 percent of the members of the Libyan air force, naval and army, are all with Operation Dignity. Very few who are working in the state cannot contribute and our numbers are increasing every day.”

Later at a press conference Hafter assured Libyans that Operation Dignity was gaining ground in its battle against terror and pledged to support democracy as the country moved toward the parliamentary election on 25 June.

He asked for border closures everywhere to contain the militias.

“We are progressing swiftly and gaining huge victories on the ground,” he said. “All that we ask for now is to close the borders to prevent the armed groups from fleeing or receiving support from outside.”

He said that he recognised the efforts of Chad, Niger, Egypt and Sudan over the past few months, who, he maintained, had all tightened up security at their borders, making it difficult for armed groups to move in and out.

“We are taking the armed groups step by step,” he explained. “They have not yet experienced the true meaning of war,” he threatened.

The general also lauded the Supreme Court of Libya, “which proved that it has the final call on all disputes across the country,” and expressed his appreciation for the Court’s decision on 9 June.

Greeting President Sisi and the Egyptian people, he expressed confidence in the new president, a man who “has come at just the right time—the perfect man in the perfect place”.

Claiming to be watching its every move, the general reminded Libyans that Ansar Al-Sharia has done nothing but kill, pointing out that, besides the security forces the group had targeted doctors, journalists and farmers. “Therefore,” he said, “we shall speak the same language that they do”.

He ended by assuring the public that Operation Dignity had not received any funding from outside of Libya.

At least 20 killed, dozens wounded in clashes in Libya’s Benghazi: medics

General Khalifa Haftar (C) holds a news conference in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi.

General Khalifa Haftar (C) holds a news conference in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi.

(Reuters) – At least 20 people were killed and almost 70 wounded when the Libyan army and forces of a renegade general fought Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi on Monday, medical sources said.

Combat helicopters belonging to forces loyal to former army general Khalifa Haftar – who wants to purge the North African state of Islamist militants he says a weak government has failed to control – supported the army in the worst fighting in months.

At least 20 people were killed and 67 wounded in Benghazi alone, hospital doctors said. Some 18 wounded were reported in al-Marj, a town east of Benghazi, where fighting also broke out, medical sources said.

Libya is in protracted turmoil three years after the NATO-backed war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, with Islamist, anti-Islamist, regional and political factions locked in conflict.

The Ansar al-Sharia militant group attacked a camp on Monday belonging to army special forces, residents there said. Haftar’s forces joined the battle taking place in residential areas with frightened families staying indoors. Schools and universities were closed.

Special army troops were also seen moving reinforcements to the area of fighting in the west of Libya’s second-largest city.

Haftar started a campaign to battle Islamists two weeks ago. Since then, public life has come almost to a standstill in the city, home to several oil companies. Its airport is closed.

On Sunday, a warplane belonging to Haftar bombed a university faculty while trying to attack a nearby Islamist camp. Two people were wounded.

The government, rival militia brigades and political factions rejected Haftar’s offensive against militants as an attempted coup after his forces also stormed parliament a week ago.

Ansar al-Sharia, listed as a terrorist group by Washington, warned the United States last week against interfering in Libya’s crisis and accused Washington of backing Haftar.

Gaddafi’s one-man rule, followed by three years of unrest, have left Libya with few functioning institutions and no real national army to impose authority on the competing militias and brigades of former rebels who have become power-brokers.

The acting prime minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, refused on Wednesday to hand over power to a newly elected premier. The OPEC oil producer now has two prime ministers and a parliament deadlocked by splits between factions.

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Egyptian Minister: Muslim Brotherhood ‘mobilized a number of terrorist extremist elements’

1In a press conference on Nov. 23, Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim accused the Muslim Brotherhood of supporting actors who are attempting to bring chaos and instability to Egypt. “The Muslim Brotherhood, in cooperation and with finances from the international branch of the group, has mobilized a number of terrorist extremist elements … and spurred them to carry out villainous terrorist act[s]” against Egyptians, Ibrahim charged.

Ibrahim’s remarks “were the first detailed examples offered by a senior Egyptian official to back claims that the Brotherhood … is responsible for attacks against security, government institutions and the country’s Coptic minority,”

From Reuters:

Ibrahim said security forces arrested five individuals from al-Qaeda linked groups who were present at the pro-Morsi vigils in Cairo before they were dispersed on August 14. The Brotherhood denies any links to violence.

Ibrahim said security forces found documents, seized weapons, and foiled various attack attempts against public figures, police and army personnel. It also blamed those groups for attacks against the police and army since June 30.

According to AFP, Ibrahim claimed that some of those detained since the ouster of Mohammed had been “pardoned of offences during Morsi’s year-long rule, and that others were linked” to groups such as Ansar Jerusalem (Ansar Bayt al Maqdis) and Ansar al Sharia in Libya.

In that regard, the Atlantic recently reported, based on comments by a regional intelligence official, that “hundreds of Sinai-based militants are traveling to Libya virtually undetected for training and cooperation with members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).” And in July, AQIM official Abu Abdul Ilah Ahmed al Jijeli said Morsi’s overthrow should teach Egyptian Muslims “that the price for applying principles on the ground is a mountain of body parts and seas of blood, because evil must be killed and not shown mercy, and righteousness must be achieved by cutting the head of those who corrupt and not reason with them,” according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Ibrahim’s press conference came three days after a car bombing in North Sinai killed 11 Egyptian security personnel. The attack, one of the deadliest since Morsi was turned out of office, has not yet been claimed.

Since Morsi’s ouster on July 3, there have been at least 253 reported attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, most of which were carried out against Egyptian security forces and assets, according to data maintained by The Long War Journal. Since July, the number of attacks has declined each month. November, which has already seen 29 attacks, is currently on pace to surpass October’s total, however.

Attacks by Sinai-based jihadists have not been limited to North Sinai. Indeed, Ansar Jerusalem, the dominant Sinai-based jihadist group, has also conducted a few attacks outside of its normal base of operations in North Sinai in recent months. On Sept. 5, the jihadist group carried out an assassination attempt in Nasr City on Egypt’s interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim. A month later, an Ansar Jerusalem suicide bomber unleashed a blast at the South Sinai Security Directorate in el Tor, which killed three security personnel and injured more than 45. Then, on Oct. 19, the Sinai-based jihadist group targeted a military intelligence building in the city of Ismailia. More recently, Ansar Jerusalem claimed responsibility for the Nov. 17 shooting attack on Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Mabrouk, a senior national security officer, in Cairo.

Egyptian Minister: Muslim Brotherhood ‘mobilized a number of terrorist extremist elements’ – Threat Matrix.

Suicide bomber kills self in Tunisian resort, second arrested | Reuters

(Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up on Wednesday in the Tunisian resort of Sousse without causing other casualties, and police seized a would-be suicide bomber at the tomb of former President Habib Bourguiba, security sources said.

The first bomber detonated his explosive belt on a beach near the Palm Hotel in Sousse, an important tourist destination south of the capital Tunis. The second was arrested at Bourguiba’s tomb in the town of Monastir.

Bombings are rare in Tunisia, but the government has said Islamist militants have exploited the chaos in neighboring Libya to acquire arms and get training.

Earlier this year, Tunisia’s Islamist-led government began a crackdown on Ansar al-Sharia, one of the most radical groups to emerge since the country’s 2011 uprising. The group’s leader is a former al Qaeda veteran who once fought in Afghanistan.

Nine policemen were killed in clashes with militants earlier this month.

Suicide bomber kills self in Tunisian resort, second arrested | Reuters.

Rashid al-Ghannushi “Global Muslim Brotherhood” kills Tunisians,

Relatives and colleagues carry the coffin of a Tunisian policeman Socrate Cherni during a funeral as they proceed to Kef - Cemetery in Kef, 168 km (104 miles) from Tunis October 24, 2013.

Relatives and colleagues carry the coffin of a Tunisian policeman Socrate Cherni during a funeral as they proceed to Kef – Cemetery in Kef, 168 km (104 miles) from Tunis October 24, 2013.

(Reuters) – Tunisian security forces fired tear gas on Thursday to disperse hundreds of people trying to storm a local government building as demonstrations broke out over the killing of seven policemen by Islamist militants.

Tensions are rising in Tunisia, where the ruling  Islamist Ennahda party “Global Muslim Brotherhood” and opposition have been trying to start talks to end a paralyzing deadlock since the assassination of two secular opposition leaders earlier this year.

Wednesday’s killings delayed the long-awaited negotiations to save a transition to democracy, once seen as a model for the region, nearly three years after the first Arab Spring uprising toppled Tunisian autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Protest in TunisClashes erupted at a government building in Kef in northern Tunisia after funerals for the officers, with enraged residents accusing Ennahda of being too lenient with hardline Islamists. ‮‮‮‮‮‮‮ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬Protesters attacked two local party offices of Ennahda in Kef and Beja, ransacking one and burning furniture in the street. Demonstrators took to the streets in four other cities to demand the Ennahda government resign, residents said.

Rashid al-Ghannushi "Global Muslim Brotherhood"

Rashid al-Ghannushi “Global Muslim Brotherhood”

“Ennahda killed my son, I will not accept consolation only after the departure of Ennahda…They are destroying our country and kill our children and want to turn Tunisia into a new Sudan,” said the mother of Socrate Charni, one of the seven slain policemen.

Divisions between Islamists and their secular opponents have widened in one of the Muslim world‘s most secular countries.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh says Ennahda is ready to resign, but insists on the completion of the country’s new constitution, the establishment of an electoral commission and a clear election date before handing over power.

Talks are scheduled over the next three weeks to decide on a caretaker government and set a date for elections. But opposition leaders want Ennahda to be clearer about its intention to resign.

The government two months ago declared a local hardline Islamist movement, Ansar al-Sharia, to be a terrorist organization and began a crackdown that authorities say has led to more than 300 arrests.

Islamist violence is less common in Tunisia than in some other North African countries, where al Qaeda-associated groups have a stronger presence. But militants have grown in influence since the Arab Spring felled relatively secular authoritarian leaders who had suppressed Islamists for decades.

Unrest rises in Tunisia after Islamists kill police officers | Reuters.