Thanks to The New York Times recently giving us a re-treatment of the background to the 11 September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four brave Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, this messy, unresolved tragedy is back in the news.
This is a murky story, as I’ve explained more than once, made so by the challenging relationship between the Department of State and U.S. intelligence on the ground in Benghazi, worsened by the intensely partisan nature of the debate that has surrounded this issue from the beginning. I blame both sides for this politicized mess, which is regrettable on many fronts, since it’s important to ascertain what actually happened that terrible night, and why. NYT has hardly helped clarity by essentially going to bat for Hillary Clinton here, well after the fact, and making a not very convincing case that Al-Qa’ida (AQ) was uninvolved in the attack on CONGEN Benghazi. Rather, according to NYT, this was the work of local extremists who got fired up by that infamous anti-Islam video. I won’t even get into the questionable professional ethics of sending the same reporter to bolster his original controversial account of Benghazi.
In a sense, this is a false debate, since it gets into important yet somewhat obscure definitional questions of what “AQ” really means today. This is a worthwhile query, however, and big-picture, I can’t improve on what Clint Watts has already said on this knotty matter. Additionally, if you’re looking for an informed counterpoint to NYT’s flimsy “no-AQ-in-Benghazi” position, look no further than Tom Jocelyn here.
What’s interesting about the NYT’s position, which seems generally shared by many who adhere to the White House line on the Benghazi debacle, is that it’s already been refuted by many others, including some who cannot be construed as FoxNews representatives. Back in October, the United Nations added to the Security Council’s AQ Sanctions List one Muhammad Jamal Abd-Al Rahim Al-Kashif, a longtime Egyptian terrorist and rather senior AQ affiliate. His violent Islamist gang is termed the Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN) and has deep roots in Egypt but also in Yemen, and has strong links with AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) too. The UN’s explanation of al-Kashif’s involvement in Benghazi is rather clear-cut:
Some of the attackers of the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on 11 September 2012 have been identified as associates of Muhammad Jamal, and some of the Benghazi attackers reportedly trained at MJN camps in Libya.
Al-Kashif is no stranger to seasoned AQ watchers – as well as the U.S. Intelligence Community – as he’s been involved in the global jihad since he went to Afghanistan in the late 1980s, during AQ’s foundational period, and he’s been a problem for Cairo for decades as a key member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Most recently, al-Kashif, known as Abu Ahmad in the jihadist underworld, was arrested by Egyptian authorities in November 2012 due to his connections to the Nasr City terrorist group.
His Yemeni ties have been deemed important, however, not least because he has a Yemeni wife and spent several years in that troubled country, helping build AQAP, among other jihad-related nefarious activities. That al-Kashif played a key role behind the Benghazi attack seems evident to many experts, and the belief that his part was critical has been bolstered by a new report on the Yemeni news site Al-Omanaa, which is based on information from unnamed senior security officials in that country.
Entitled, “The killer of the U.S. Ambassador in Libya was living in Yemen,” the article claims that U.S. and Egyptian security services have recently asked Yemeni counterparts for information on al-Kashif, whom Washington, DC has accused of “being behind the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on 11 September 2012 in Benghazi.” Additionally, Al-Omanaa says that U.S. intelligence (i.e. NSA) intercepted a phone call between al-Kashif and AQ boss Ayman al-Zawahiri, implying that the call may have discussed the Benghazi attack.
As of now, this is just one report, and the reliability of Middle Eastern media must be assessed as questionable until proved otherwise. That said, if U.S. officials have asked for information about al-Kashif, a longtime AQ associate, on grounds that he was behind the Benghazi raid, that tells us something significant. This is not the first time Arab media has mentioned al-Kashif as one of the ringleaders behind the Benghazi attack – not long after the attack Egyptian media reported that the FBI actually tracked his movements relating to Benghazi, all the way to Cairo after the atrocity – but given the NYT’s recent report, this matter has taken on added significance.
As I concur with Blake Hounshell that we’ll be discussing the Benghazi story for years to come, I’ll file this under “developing” for now and see what emerges … watch this space.