Tripoli, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sources close to the Obama administration have revealed that US security authorities have complained about a lack of cooperation from the Egyptian and Libyan authorities regarding the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which resulted in the death of US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other embassy staff. Whilst sources close to the FBI investigation into the attack also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that primary evidence in the case has been lost or compromised after the Libyan authorities failed to secure the scene of the crime over a period of two weeks.
The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi occurred following widespread protests against an American-made movie insulting Prophet Muhammad. Libyan authorities arrested 8 suspects in connection with the attack, whilst interviewing dozens more. Responding to US complaints that the scene of the crime had been compromised, a Libyan security official responsible for collecting evidence in the Benghazi attack stressed “this is the manner of our investigations, we did what we had to [in terms of securing the scene]” adding “we do not follow the American way [of investigation].”
Sources close to the FBI investigation into the Benghazi attack informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this is focusing on three suspects with alleged ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
The first of the three suspects is known as “Juma”, a resident of the Libyan port city of Derna. He is reportedly a leading member of the Libyan Islamist “Ansar al-Sharia” militia that advocates the implementation of Islamic Sharia law across the country. This suspect is also reportedly a former detainee of Guantanamo Bay and is believed to have tried to contact Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He disappeared from Derna just days after the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
The second suspect is known as “Bu Kitf”, a former inmate of Gaddafi’s prisons and a leading member of the “17 February” battalion, which was responsible for providing security to the US consulate.
The third suspect is known as “Abu Ahmed”, also a former prison inmate released following the Egyptian revolution and the ouster of the Mubarak regime. The Americans believe that the Egyptian national sent a message to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri last July asking permission to form an Al Qaeda branch in Egypt.
The scene of the crime at the US consulate in Benghazi was left unguarded following the attack until the arrival of American investigators in the country last week. This means that any evidence uncovered by the FBI investigation team will likely be compromised.
The FBI team is reportedly made up of between 20 and 25 agents, in addition to around 10 “Delta Force” soldiers providing security. The FBI team had been in Tripoli for a number of weeks waiting for access to the Benghazi consulate. They were finally able to examine the scene of the crime, which resulted in the deaths of 4 American citizens, last Thursday. They visited all the relevant locations in Benghazi connected to the attack, but the FBI refused to say what, if anything, its investigators had uncovered.
An informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the FBI investigators asked about “Bu Kitf”, saying “when questions were asked about By Kitf in Benghazi, they were informed that he was not present in the city. When they [the FBI team] asked for his telephone number to talk to him and hear what he had to say about the attack, they were informed that he had traveled outside of the country, perhaps to Tunisia.”
The source also revealed that not much is known about the third suspect, an Egyptian national known only as Abu Ahmed, other than that he was released from prison following the Egyptian revolution. There is information that he sent a message to Ayman al-Zawahiri last July, asking for the Al Qaeda leader’s blessing to form an Al Qaeda branch in Egypt.
The source also revealed that the Egyptian authorities had failed to provide any information or cooperation with the Americans regarding this suspect. The Egyptian authorities failed to respond to an Asharq Al-Awsat request for comment on this issue.
For their part, jihadist sources in Cairo played down the importance and status of Abu Ahmed, adding “he is probably not present in Egypt at this time. “
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat from Washington yesterday, Barak Barfi, research fellow at the New America Foundation, stressed that “there was a significant failure in American security.”
He added “I think that the Americans believe that Abu Ahmed is responsible for the explosion at the Benghazi consulate…with the participation of Libyans from the Ansar al-Sharia group.”
He stressed “this is why they are disappointed regarding the extent of the cooperation of the Tripoli and Cairo authorities.”
Barfi also told Asharq Al-Awsat “the Americans are afraid of the new situation in the region, particularly following the revolutions that brought Islamist trends to power. They are facing two problems. Firstly, they must deal with the Libyan government at a time when this government is weak and does not have the capability to carry out this investigation, not to mention protect the investigation team itself.”
He stressed that the Libyan authorities inability to protect the investigation team was the reason that the FBI team remained in Tripoli until US Special Forces troops could be dispatched to provide security.