New thread cos the old one has worn out its purpose..................
Amid uncertainty, hopeful crowds mark anniversary of Libyan revolt
By Marie-Luise Gumuchian, Saturday, February 18, 9:20 AM
TRIPOLI, Libya — Flags flew in Martyrs Square in Tripoli and crowds across Libya gave voice Friday to joy at being free of Moammar Gaddafi, as the anniversary of their revolt offered a brief respite from fears that it has brought them only chaos and political gridlock.
In Benghazi, cradle of last year’s “Feb. 17 Revolution,” and in the capital, which fell to Western-backed rebels six months later, there was none of the sporadic gunfire that has soured the peace that followed Gaddafi’s killing Oct. 20.
As it struggles to prepare for free elections in June while hundreds of armed groups of varying local, tribal or religious affiliation jockey for a slice of power, the interim government has disappointed many Libyans.
Enmities fester after 42 years of rule by Gaddafi and a corrupt family coterie. In makeshift jails, militiamen hold, and sometimes torture, rivals whom they accuse of pro-Gaddafi sympathies.
For a day, however, it was time to party — and express hope.
“Despite the problems that remain in the country, this is an amazing day and we want to celebrate,” said Sarah, a 22-year-old engineering student out with friends.
A band played the national anthem in the Martyrs Square — called Green Square in Gaddafi’s era. Fireworks popped, and ships in the harbor blew foghorns.
Abdelwafi Mohammed, 25, a recent university graduate, said: “I feel like all the Libyans feel happiness and joy. We don’t have any fears.”
International human rights groups have urged the Transitional National Council of Mustafa Abdel Jalil to clamp down on abuses. But he and other government officials complain that they lack the means to do so.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated that call Friday in a congratulatory statement on the anniversary, saying that protecting the rights of all Libyans “will help preserve the unity of purpose that defined the revolution.”
In Benghazi, cold, wet weather did not keep away the crowds on what is now known as Freedom Square, nor appear to dampen their spirits.
“I am happy for the Libyan people,” pensioner Morjaa al-Manafi, 66, said. He conceded, however, that “so far, I haven’t seen any progress — except for freedom of speech.”
Now, he said, “the Libyans speak their minds everywhere.”
At Gaddafi’s old Bab al-Aziziya compound, which has been reduced to rubble, flags dotted the derelict landscape. Several families have moved into the few buildings still standing.
“Now, we are equal,” said Basma, a mother of three, who said she had moved her family into the compound last month.
But Ezzieddin Agiel, who teaches engineering at Tripoli University, said insecurity could undermine the June elections for an assembly whose job will be to frame a constitution.
“The weakness of the political institutions may lead to serious problems for Libya, which may be difficult to control,” he said.
Algeria seizes missiles smuggled from Libya: source
Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:08am GMT
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian security forces have found a large cache of weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, which they believe were smuggled in from neighbouring Libya, a security source briefed on the discovery told Reuters on Saturday.
The find follows warnings from governments in the region that instability in Libya after the end of Muammar Gaddafi's rule is allowing weapons taken from Gaddafi's arsenal to fall into the hands of al Qaeda's north African branch and other insurgent groups across the Sahara desert.
The weapons cache was discovered in the desert about 60 km (40 miles) south of In Amenas, an energy-producing Algerian region near the border with Libya, said the source, who spoke to Reuters on condition on anonymity.
The source said the cache was located following a tip-off from a smuggler who had been arrested. He said it contained a "large quantity" of arms including the shoulder-launched missiles - a weapon which, in some variations, could be used to bring down an aircraft.
"This weapons seizure shows that the chaos in Libya is dangerous for the whole region," the source said.
There was no official confirmation of the discovery from the Algerian government and there was no way of independently verifying the source's account.
Western security experts tracking arms which have disappeared from Gaddafi's looted arms depots say the shoulder-fired missiles - also known as man-portable air defence systems, or MANPADS - are one of their biggest concerns because they could be used with relative ease by insurgent groups.
Gaddafi's forces had about 20,000 of the missiles, according to a U.S. government task force which is trying to locate the missiles. The task force says most of the missiles are still inside Libya, in the hands of militias loosely allied to the interim leadership that took over after Gaddafi's rule was overthrown last year.
Security officials in North Africa say the worst-case scenario is that al Qaeda's north African wing, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), could use one of the missiles to bring down a commercial airliner coming in to land or taking off at an airport somewhere in North Africa.
The group is waging a long-running insurgency against Algeria's government. It also carries out kidnappings, ambushes and bomb attacks on Western targets in the Sahel, a huge volatile band that straddles the borders of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Speaking in Geneva last week, a U.N. panel of experts on Libya said the lack of strong central government control in Libya was making it difficult to track down the missing MANPADS.
"People are concerned and they are right," said one panel member, on condition of anonymity. "There is certainly weapons traffic into the Sahel. It is a large desert area with limited (border) controls."
Algeria has been one of the region's most vocal states in warning of the security impact of Gaddafi's fall. The revolt has left huge quantities of weapons unsecured and a fragile interim government that is struggling to impose its authority and control the country's borders.
However, Libyan officials say they are working to secure the missing weapons and have accused Algeria of exaggerating the threat.
They say its neighbour was against the revolt in Libya and is now using the security issue to undermine the new leadership in Tripoli, allegations that Algerian officials deny.
© Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
5,000 Libyan MANPADS Secured
Some May Have Been Smuggled Out
Apr. 12, 2012 - 11:14AM
By ANDREW CHUTER
A team of weapons experts has been unable to rule out the possibility that a number of man-operated portable weapons secured from Libya may have leaked out of the country or been acquired by terrorists. (Mahmud Turkia / Agence France-Presse)
LONDON — A multinational team of weapons experts has secured and destroyed 5,000 Libyan man-operated portable air defense systems and components left over after the fall of the Gadhafi regime, according to the British Ministry of Defence. The team has been unable to rule out the possibility that a number of the weapons may have leaked out of the country or been acquired by terrorists.
“The team has concluded that most remaining MANPADS are likely to be under the control of regional military councils and militias,” the British said, adding that they were helping fund the Libyan authorities and the U.N. implementation of a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program to bring the remaining systems back under the control of the central government.
A joint military-civilian team made up of U.K., French, U.S. and Libyan personnel have been in country since last August helping to track down the large numbers of weapons left by Gadhafi’s regime.
The U.S. government estimates Gadhafi’s forces had about 20,000 MANPADS in their armory at the time of the regime’s collapse, raising fears that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.
The British MoD said in a statement released April 12 that thousands of the weapons had been destroyed during the conflict, and that inspections of more than 1,600 ammunition bunkers had “identified, secluded, disabled or confirmed as destroyed 5,000 components and complete systems.”
The MoD was unable to give a breakdown of weapon types found, but they are likely to be mainly Russian-built SA-7 Grail missiles.
Iraq to Aid Libya in Destroying Chemical Weapons
Apr. 12, 2012 - 02:06PM
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
BAGHDAD — Iraq has accepted a request from Libya to provide assistance in disposing of Tripoli’s chemical weapons, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement released April 12.
The Iraqi cabinet has agreed “to provide necessary technical assistance to the Libyan authorities to dispose of their chemical stockpiles, according to the procedures followed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),” the statement said.
Libya’s representative to the OPCW, Mohammed Jibril, requested Iraqi “help in the diplomatic and technical field to get rid of chemical stockpiles that Libya has which must be destroyed under the supervision” of the OPCW, it said.
Iraq approved the request because Baghdad wants “to provide the necessary assistance ... to Arab brothers at all levels,” the statement said, noting Iraq’s “extensive experience ... in disposing of chemical weapons.”
The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Iraq became the 186th state party in 2009, according to the OPCW website.
The OPCW said in November that Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council had pledged to continue with the previous regime’s program of destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles.
The organization said in January after a visit by inspectors that ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s regime possessed undeclared mustard gas shells.
“Libya must now submit a detailed plan and completion date for destroying all of the declared materials to the OPCW not later than 29 April 2012, the date of the final extended deadline,” it said.
Iraq has long history with chemical weapons, which the regime of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein used against Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war, and also against its own civilian population.
In 1988, an estimated 5,000 people were killed in the Iraqi village of Halabja in what is now thought to have been the worst gas attack ever carried out against civilians.
Islamist militia braces for reprisals as Libyan anger mounts over US deaths
People of Benghazi fear jihadists want to decouple Libya from western support, and are frustrated by lack of government action
Chris Stephen in Benghazi
guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 September 2012 17.01 BST
Libyan military guards check one of burnt-out buildings of the US consulate in Benghazi. Photograph: Mohammad Hannon/AP
The black flag of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia continued to flutter over its base in downtown Benghazi, but the garrison was nervous, braced for reprisals after the killing of the US ambassador to Libya on Tuesday night. Many in Benghazi say Sharia played a part in the storming of the US consulate that left four Americans dead.
At the gate of the militia's compound, a bearded commander dressed in black from head to toe said the talk inside was of two US warships that had been deployed off the Libyan coast. "There are two military boats," he said. "Everybody is talking about it. I know they are there, what do I need to do to prove it, swim?"
He refused to give his name or to allow journalists entry. When asked about the death of the ambassador, Chris Stevens, he terminated the interview, ducked back into the base and slammed the gate shut.
Sharia has been blamed for string of recent attacks on western targets, including the destruction of Commonwealth war graves and a rocket attack on the British ambassador in June. The group was formed early in last year's uprising and its members did much of the early fighting that stabilised the frontline in March 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi's forces threatened to capture Benghazi.
Its main base is 100 miles north-east, in the coastal city of Derna, known as the centre of Islamic conservatism in Libya. It was here that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed to combat Gaddafi in the 1990s. When it was crushed, some members fled to join the ranks of Islamists in Afghanistan.
The man with responsibility for security in Benghazi is Fawzi Yunis Gaddafi, who is from the same tribe as Libya's former dictator but was imprisoned by the former regime for his political views. Chief of the Benghazi branch of the supreme security committee, the only national military force, Yunis Gaddafi said Sharia sat apart from the security apparatus.
"There is the SSC, and [in Benghazi] there are other brigades that are not with the SSC. Ansar al-Sharia is separate," he said. But he was reluctant to close down Sharia without direct orders, despite evidence that Sharia personnel were involved in the night of violence.
"We saw some individuals there [at the consulate attack]," he said. He even knew where some of the suspects were: Benghazi's al-Jala hospital was treating several of the mob wounded in the fighting. But security forces did not dare enter the hospital because it was guarded by the Sharia brigade. "There are some who have been wounded, but if you go there the Sharia are around the hospital," he said.
On Tuesday night Yunis Gaddafi had taken panicked calls from American diplomats pleading for help as they were slaughtered. "I spoke to the Americans, they were saying please help us," he said. His units arrived too late to save Stevens and his colleagues.
He said he would have had more men on duty if he had known the ambassador was inside the embattled compound. "We didn't know the ambassador was there. It was the Americans' fault. If we had known he was there, we would have been earlier."
Diplomats have in the past muttered about Islamist units such as Sharia enjoying funding and support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, powerful allies of the new Libya whom the government hesitates to oppose. But Yunis Gaddafi denied this was a factor. He said Sharia could only be blamed if conclusive proof emerged from an investigation.
That seems unlikely. Libya's interior ministry said it had arrested four men, refusing to confirm whether they were Sharia members, but there were no signs of an investigation at the burnt-out consulate. Police were conspicuous by their absence and journalists were allowed free access, trampling possible clues into the dust.
"You want to know who controls Benghazi?" asked a worshipper, who did not give his name, outside the Mishal al-Harem mosque after Friday prayers. "Nobody controls the streets of Benghazi."
Loudspeakers outside the mosque broadcast a sermon in which the imam, Suheib, condemned the attack. "The burning of buildings is not the path of the prophet Muhammad," the imam said.
It was a sentiment shared by worshippers mingling outside in the hot afternoon sun, and anger was growing towards a government unable or unwilling to take control. The fear across Benghazi is that the jihadists want to decouple Libya from western support, creating chaos in which they will hope to seize power.
"We have the armed forces. We should tell them [Sharia brigade] to disarm or get out, yet the people in charge [of Libya] can't give them a single ultimatum," said Khalid Faraj, a Libyan-American businessman. "What if these idiots shoot a plane down, who is going to listen to us making excuses?"
Battle in Benghazi as crowds attack militia blamed for US diplomat's death
Angry protesters set fire to buildings at militia HQ but are met with machine-gun fire at second base
Chris Stephen in Benghazi
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 22 September 2012 01.47 BST
Libyans march against Ansar al-Shariah brigades and other Islamic militias in Benghazi. Later on the crowds came under fire. Photograph: Mohammad Hannon/AP
Fierce fighting broke out on Friday night after crowds trying to storm the Benghazi base of a militia blamed for the death of US ambassador Chris Stevens came under fire.
Earlier in the evening protesters calling for an end to militia rule had stormed the headquarters of the Islamic Ansar al-Sharia brigade in the city, setting fire to buildings after pushing past guards who fired in the air.
But the protesters ran into a hail of fire when they moved south to storm a much larger secondary base of the militia, whose members are accused of the attack on the US consulate that left Stevens and three other diplomats dead.
Machine-gun fire burst out as the demonstrators tried to enter the compound, a former base of Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
Later there was pandemonium as police and army vehicles jostled with civilian cars and ambulances trying to get the wounded through traffic to hospital.
Sirens, screams, car horns and the rattle of heavy machine-gun fire filled the air, with long bursts of fiery red tracer fired from inside the base going over the heads of panicked protesters.
Hours earlier, Benghazi had been quiet, its people toasting the peaceful end of a rally that saw 20,000 people gather in the city centre to demand an end to militia violence.
As the women and children left the rally, hundreds of young men stormed the Ansar al-Sharia base, and that of another city centre militia blamed for thuggery, meeting little resistance.
Live television pictures showed wounded men arriving in the city hospitals, some of the lesser wounded shouting Allahu Akbar – God is great.
A Guardian correspondent trying to approach the base was turned back by a bearded man in a long white coat traditionally worn on Friday, the day of prayer.
"You must go back, you must go back, foreigners are not safe," he said.
The decision by the Ansar al-Sharia brigade to fight back rather than surrender its base has caused an immediate political crisis for Libya's head of state, Mohamed al-Magariaf, who has blamed the unit for involvement in the death of Stevens and linked it to al-Qaida.
Bodies of six militiamen found in Benghazi after attacks on bases
Militiamen found apparently executed the day after protesters stormed jihadists' bases in Libyan city of Benghazi
Chris Stephen in Benghazi
The Observer, Saturday 22 September 2012 19.06 BST
Members of Rafallah al-Sahati at their base in Benghazi, which was attacked by an angry crowd. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
The Libyan city of Benghazi was tense after the bodies of six militiamen apparently executed after the storming of a base on the southern outskirts were discovered in a field.
The bodies were found the day after crowds marched on three militia bases, including that of Ansar al-Sharia, blamed by many in the city for the murder of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, earlier this month. Funerals were held for nine protesters killed when crowds tried to force their way into the Rafallah al-Sahati militia base early on Saturday morning.
The militia was the only one of three to fire back when demonstrators swarmed over their bases, following a rally on Friday in which 30,000 people vowed to retake the streets of the city.
The interior minister, Fawzi Abdul Al, who was criticised for his failure to launch a full investigation of the murder of Stevens and three fellow diplomats, criticised the action of the crowds, saying the militias should have been given more time to incorporate into the official security forces.
The mood in Benghazi is one of both triumph and sorrow at the toll of dead and wounded. Mohammed El Kish, whose cousin was killed by a stray bullet more than a mile from the clashes, said: "He was not even involved in the actions, it is terrible."
City hospitals were braced for more violence after the Rafallah al-Sahati militia reoccupied its looted base. Several hundred unarmed people gathered outside. "This is not good, they should not be here. When the funerals have finished there will be trouble," said Ashraf Saleh.
Police remained in control of the Ansar al-Sharia compound, which is now a looted ruin. A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, whose units have dispersed outside the city, insisted they had withdrawn rather than confront protesters "for reasons of security".
The chaos at the heart of Libya's government remains, with some angry that Rafallah was attacked after it had formally been incorporated into the Libyan army. Such designations are lost on many ordinary Libyans, who say many militias from last year's revolution have simply cut deals with ministries, enabling them to form what are in essence private armies.
Washington is likely to draw quiet comfort from the sight of ordinary Libyan civilians confronting jihadists, after a week in which embassies across the Muslim world were firebombed and protests claimed 15 lives in Pakistan. US diplomats in Libya had been at pains not to inflame public opinion, with no criticism of the failure of the Libyan police to launch a full investigation into the killing of Stevens.
Nearly two weeks after his death, an FBI team sent to Tripoli has yet to be given permission to travel to Benghazi. The city's chief prosecutor Saleh Adem Mohammed refused to discuss the case, nor confirm reports of four men arrested on suspicion of the killing. "We are not responsible for what the politicians say."
Rumours are sweeping Benghazi that one of the two US compounds in the city that came under attack housed a small "black ops" unit that had moved to Libya after the rocket attack on the British ambassador in the city in June. The US has yet to explain why some 30 diplomats needed to be evacuated from a consulate that might be expected to have less than half that staff.
But as more eyewitness evidence accumulates, it is clear that the attack on the consulate was unprovoked, and that statements from Washington that it grew out of an anti-American protest appear to be false.
Libyan authorities give Islamist militia two days to leave their bases
Officials seek to exploit wave of people power after gunmen flee angry crowds in Benghazi
Chris Stephen in Benghazi, Matthew Weaver and agencies
The Guardian, Sunday 23 September 2012 16.25 BST
Libya's de facto head of state Muhammad Magariaf ordered militas to hand their weapons to the army. Photograph: EPA
The Libyan authorities have given armed groups two days to vacate military bases and compounds as they seek to capitalise on the wave of people power that drove an Islamist militia from Benghazi at the weekend.
Jihadist militias in Derna, Libya's Islamist stronghold, threw in the towel on Sunday, withdrawing from their stronghold and announcing they were disbanding to avoid a repeat of the scenes in Benghazi in which angry crowds sent armed gunmen fleeing. One of the routed militias was blamed for an attack on the US consulate two weeks ago that left four Americans dead including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.
The de facto head of state, Muhammad Magariaf, president of Libya's parliament, met Benghazi politicians and security officials, anxious to fill a security vacuum that has emerged from the weekend violence, in which at least 11 people died.
"The army chief Yussef al-Mangoush and Muhammad Magariaf have ordered all illegitimate militias should be removed from compounds and hand over their weapons to the national army," said Adel Othman al-Barasi, a spokesman for the defence ministry, according to Reuters. "A committee made up by the military police has been formed to take over the compounds and the weapons and hand these over to the army."
Benghazi's army garrison commander, General Hamad Belkhair, said he was moving military police units into vacated militia bases. "What happened was a big mess," he said of the takeover by protesters of Benghazi's three militia bases on Friday night and Saturday morning. "But it has left the government clearly in control of the streets."
Bilal Bettamer, a 22-year-old law student in the city who was one of the organisers of the Benghazi protests, said he was optimistic the militias would be disbanded. "You can't have 100% success in these situations. [But] that's what we wanted – the militias are put on notice and everyone knows now that this country will refuse any extremists and will eventually get rid of them, and become a country that we wanted on 17 February."
He condemned the apparent killing of militia guards as a "stupid move" and speculated that pro-Gaddafi elements could be to blame. He even praised the courage of the militias for disbanding, claiming it showed they respected democracy.
"Militias are not evil people, they are good people and they have saved Libya before. But it is time for legitimacy to take its place for the police and army. You can't build a country based on militias.
"The army are back on the streets. You can see the army and police at night. The collection of individual weapons is beginning right now. They are doing their expected job. They have put small militia on notice to evacuate the neighbourhood. The army got braver. Everyone is telling them, strike with an iron fist."
Yet extremists remain a presence: Belkhair himself was kidnapped on Saturday morning by masked gunmen and held for six hours before being released unharmed. He said he thought the group, who did not identify themselves, wanted him to limit the army's role in securing the city. Belkhair and police commanders are uneasily aware that the surge of people power that has swept militias from the streets could degenerate into anarchy, and that he lacks the manpower to impose order.
An army unit from Sirte, former stronghold of the late dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has occupied the compound of the Raffala al-Sahati militia, whose soldiers shot many of the 11 killed in the early hours of Saturday. Investigators are trying to establish who killed six militiamen whose bodies were found, each with a bullet to the head, in a field near the Raffala base.
In Derna, a centre for Islamist resistance against the Gaddafi regime, two powerful jihadist formations, Abu Salem and Ansar al-Sharia, have agreed to disband. Commanders of both formations – the latter linked to the group blamed for the killing of Stevens – told Libya's state news agency that they had decided their role was over.
In Tripoli, many foreign embassies remain in security lockdown, fearing jihadist units in the capital will seek revenge for the humiliating rout of their comrades in eastern Libya.
Benghazi officials say the way is now clear for Washington to deploy an FBI team that is kicking its heels in Tripoli to join the investigation into the death of Stevens, who died from smoke inhalation after the attack on the consulate compound.
Libya Could Be An Opportunity For CIA, If Spies Stick Around
By Spencer Ackerman, WIRED.com, September 24, 2012 | 11:01 am
Libyans celebrate the end of the Gadhafi regime in Benghazi, October 2011. After the attack on the U.S. consulate, these same Libyans could be key for the CIA’s counterterrorism efforts. Photo: Flickr/Magherebia
President Obama told the truth when he said there would be no U.S. ground troops in Libya after last year’s war to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He just left out a lot of context — like how eastern Libya, the site of the deadly September 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, would become a major staging ground for American contractors and intelligence operatives as they try to take the measure of the local Islamist militants.
The future of that effort is now in question after an attack that killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador and two former Navy SEALs. The assault has led Americans to vacate Benghazi for their safety, even though various militant groups continue their operations. It’s a disaster for U.S. intelligence efforts in the region, especially since the attack has made brutally clear how real the jihadi threat in eastern Libya remains.
But there may be the smallest of silver linings to this black cloud, if American operatives are able to capitalize on it. The aftermath of the attack shows widespread displeasure with Benghazi’s jihadist groups, with thousands marching in protest. That’s an opportunity the CIA could use to rebuild its intelligence gathering.
The New York Times reports that one of the compounds in the lightly-secured Benghazi consulate was a CIA safe house. From there, intelligence personnel and contractors — like the ex-Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who died in the attack — attempted to locate and destroy the thousands of rockets and missiles that went missing during the war. They also attempted to gather information on the constellation of extremist militias that have emerged after the downfall of Gadhafi.
Now they may not. While U.S. surveillance drones dot the skies over Libya, what remains of the intelligence operation below may have already departed Benghazi, understandably fearing for its safety. An anonymous U.S. official described it to the Times as a “catastrophic intelligence loss” that leaves the U.S. with “our eyes poked out.” While other officials dispute that characterization, the first account administration officials provided of the incident mentioned that remaining U.S. personnel in eastern Libya had been extracted.
Some important background: Obama’s decision to support the Libyan revolution had an unintended consequence for the CIA. Behind the scenes, it had collaborated with Gadhafi’s brutal intelligence apparatus to track (and occasionally torture) suspected Libyan terrorists. Now, the Gadhafi intelligence apparatus was gone, leaving the CIA without its proxy eyes and ears, and a weak interim government of unproven ability operated in its place.
And eastern Libya is not a place to be without eyes and ears. While the Arab Spring may have undermined one of al-Qaida’s central rationales for existing — waging war to overthrow U.S.-backed dictators — but opportunities for related or sympathetic jihadi groups to fill the vacuums left by overthrown regimes have expanded. That’s on stark display in eastern Libya. A massive intelligence trove captured from al-Qaida in Iraq in 2007 revealed that the city of Derna, with a population of 100,000, sent 52 fighters to wage jihad in Iraq, more than the Saudi capitol of Riyadh, a city of four million. As militia groups coalesced in post-Gadhafi Libya, alliances shifted and new organizations moved in, word of a growing extremist threat in the east even broke through in major media. Focal point: Derna.
Whatever intelligence network the CIA built on the ground in eastern Libya failed it two weeks ago in Benghazi. And whether or not there were specific warnings of the 9/11 anniversary attack, the State Department in the spring hired a British security firm to help protect the consulate. And the diary of the slain U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, revealed that he was worried about “a rise in Islamic extremism and al Qaida’s growing presence in Libya,” CNN reported.
But there’s an opportunity in the wake of the attack to rebuild a network of Libyan informants. Tens of thousands of Libyans took to the streets this weekend to protest the extremist militia groups. Some of them even “stormed the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia, a hard-line Islamist militia that has been linked to the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi,” the Times reported. It’s a reminder of a phenomenon that was on display in 2006 in Iraq: the more a local population comes to know an al-Qaida-aligned organization, and the austere agenda it plans to impose, the more it rejects the extremists. Jihadists are often better at planning terrorist attacks than they are at holding territory.
That means there are thousands of people in Libya who may see their interests aligning with the CIA’s. That’s an opportunity that might redeem some of the sacrifice of the four Americans slain in Benghazi — if the CIA sticks around to exploit it.
Attack on U.S. Consulate in Libya determined to be terrorism tied to al-Qaeda
Anti-American protests continue in the Middle East: U.S. diplomatic compounds come under attack in Egypt, Yemen and other countries.
By Greg Miller, Published: September 28
The Washington Post
U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya involved a small number of militants with ties to al-Qaeda in North Africa but see no indication that the terrorist group directed the assault, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The determination reflects an emerging consensus among analysts at the CIA and other agencies that has contributed to a shift among senior Obama administration officials toward describing the siege of U.S. facilities in Benghazi as a terrorist attack.
U.S. intelligence officials said the composition of the militant forces involved in the assault has become clearer over the past week and that analysts now think that two or three fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were involved.
“There are people who at least have some association with AQIM,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official who added that “it’s not so direct that you would say AQIM as an organization planned and carried this out.”
Instead, U.S. officials said a *lesser-known Islamist group, *Ansar al-Sharia, played a much larger role in sending fighters and providing weapons for the attack, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. U.S. officials have previously cited suspicion of al-Qaeda connections to the attack.
The intelligence picture assembled so far indicates that militants had been preparing an assault on the U.S. compound in Benghazi for weeks but were so disorganized that, after the battle started, they had to send fighters to retrieve heavier weapons.
U.S. intelligence officials said they think the attack was not timed to coincide with the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary. Instead, the officials said, the assault was set in motion after protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as part of a protest of an amateur anti-Islamic YouTube video.
“There’s never been any intelligence, nor any I’m aware of now, that indicated this was a plot planned months in advance to get turned on on 9/11,” said an Obama administration official.
The emerging scenario, the official said, “is that extremists in the region had cased out and hoped to target U.S. facilities in Benghazi for some time. When they saw what was happening in Cairo, that influenced their timing.”
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the preliminary assessments of analysts involved in an ongoing investigation of the Benghazi attack that involves the FBI, the CIA and other agencies.
The question of whether the attack was a pre-planned act of terrorism has become entangled in the politics of the ongoing presidential campaign. Republicans have accused the administration of being reluctant to attribute the Benghazi assault to terrorism, suggesting it could make Obama vulnerable on a perceived foreign policy strength — the success of the campaign against al-Qaeda — and raise questions about his handling of the rise of Islamist factions in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
The State Department said Thursday that it was pulling more American staff from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli out of concern for their safety. A State Department official described the reduction as temporary and said the embassy was not being closed. The State Department would not say how many people are leaving or how many will stay.
A message on the embassy Web site Thursday told U.S. citizens in Libya to avoid areas of the city where protests are planned and warned that “even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn violent and unpredictable. You should avoid them if at all possible.”
After Obama administration officials initially characterized the assault as a protest that turned violent, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday became the highest-ranking official to call the attack an act of terrorism. In remarks at the United Nations, Clinton said that terrorists were “working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”
Clinton and others had avoided that term until the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, testified before Congress last week that the ambassador and others “died as a result of a terrorist attack.”
At the time, Olsen said that analysts were examining “indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s affiliates.”
U.S analysts have combed through intercepted communications, pictures and video from the scene and information from sources, including suspects taken into custody by the Libyan government.
Describing the militants involved, one U.S. official said: “Those individuals — whoever they may be — who took part in the attack all swim in the same, relatively small, extremist pond. So there could be a number of individual or ad hoc ties with AQIM or other extremist groups. These connections alone do not mean AQIM was behind or planned the attack. This is why there’s an ongoing investigation, to identify the attackers and determine motives and relationships to extremist groups.”
Two other U.S. officials said that intelligence indicates that the AQIM figures may have included one or more from outside Libya but declined to provide more details. AQIM, which grew out of a long-standing insurgency in Algeria, has mainly been a regional menace, but it is a source of growing concern to U.S. counterterrorism officials largely because it has acquired territory and weapons in northern Mali.
Beyond the suspicions of al-Qaeda involvement, the key questions surrounding Benghazi so far have centered on the extent to which the assault was premeditated. The staging of the attack, which targeted two separate U.S. compounds, is seen by analysts as evidence of significant pre-planning. But officials said the fighters needed to rearm and that mortars didn’t appear until seven hours into the fight, indicating impromptu adjustments.
“They had to rally people to get their most lethal weapons,” the administration official said.