PARIS, (Reuters) – The U.S. military’s commander in Africa said on Wednesday some militants involved in the attack in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya were linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“There is a growing network of violent extremist organizations and it appears to me very likely that some of the terrorists who participated in the attack in Benghazi have at least some linkages to AQIM,” General Carter Ham, head of Africa Command, told reporters in Paris.
“That is not to say that it was AQIM which planned or organized or led the activity but clearly some of the individuals had some linkages,” he said.
Ham made the comments ahead of a congressional hearing on Thursday into the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens on September 11.
The commander was in Paris to meet French officials to talk about the crisis in Mali, including the prospect of a military intervention to oust al Qaeda-linked militants.
“If you ask me today does AQIM present an imminent threat to the United States, my answer would be that I don’t think today they possess a credible and imminent threat to the U.S. homeland. But that network already killed four Americans,” Ham said.
“If we in the international community don’t find a way to address this, the threat will worsen and the network will become stronger and will gain capability to export violence.”
Ham appeared cautious on calls for an immediate intervention in Mali, saying the United States wanted negotiations as a “starting point.” That is also the position of regional powerhouse Algeria.
He added that while there were 800 to 1,200 hardcore and committed ideological fighters in the north that could not be reconciled, an intervention was not “certain”.
It would take months rather than weeks to rebuild Mali’s military capability following a coup earlier this year, Ham said. While European nations are sending military advisors to train Malian troops, Ham said the United States could not legally do so while the coup leaders were still in power.