Is the U.S. supporting the very Islamic groups now attacking the country’s diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt?
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other American diplomats were killed in an attack today on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
One witness to the mob scene in Libya said some of the gunmen attacking the U.S. installation had identified themselves as members of Ansar al-Shariah, which represents al-Qaida in Yemen and Libya.
The al-Qaida offshoot released a statement denying its members were behind the deadly attack today, but a man identified as a leader of the Ansar brigade told Al Jazeera the group indeed took part in the Benghazi attack.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed the attack in Libya on a “small and savage group,” not the government or people of Libya.
In Egypt meanwhile, demonstrators yesterday tore down the American flag outside Cairo’s U.S. embassy and burned it reportedly in protest of a film that depicts the Islamic figure Muhammad in a negative way
According to reports, the crowd of around 2,000 protesters outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo consisted of a mixture of Islamists and teenage soccer fans known for fighting police. The protesters reportedly played a part in the U.S.-supported revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year.
The revolt was successful largely after President Obama called for Mubarak, a longtime U.S. ally in the region, to step down.
Obama today condemned the attack in Libya “in the strongest terms” while vowing the U.S. will work with the Libyan government to track down the perpetrators of the attack.
Al-Qaida among U.S.-supported rebels
However, questions remain about the nature of U.S. support for the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, including reports the U.S.-aided rebels that toppled Muammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya consisted of al-Qaida and jihad groups. The U.S. provided direct assistance, including weapons and finances, to the Libyan rebels.
Similarly, the Obama administration is currently aiding the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria amid widespread reports that al-Qaida jihadists are included in the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.
During the revolution against Gadhafi’s regime, the U.S. admitted to directly arming the rebel groups.
At the time, rebel leader Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi admitted in an interview that a significant number of the Libyan rebels were al-Qaeda fighters, many of whom had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaida are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.”
Adm. James Stavridis, NATO supreme commander for Europe, admitted Libya’s rebel force may include al-Qaida: “We have seen flickers in the intelligence of potential al-Qaida, Hezbollah.”
Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel went even further, telling the Hindustan Times: “There is no question that al-Qaida’s Libyan franchise, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is a part of the opposition. It has always been Gadhafi’s biggest enemy and its stronghold is Benghazi. What is unclear is how much of the opposition is al-Qaida/Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – 2 percent or 80 percent.”
In Syria, meanwhile, the U.S. may be currently supporting al-Qaida and other jihadists fighting with the rebels targeting Assad’s regime.
Last month, WND quoted a senior Syrian source claiming at lease 500 hardcore mujahedeen from Afghanistan, many of whom were spearheading efforts to fight the U.S. there, have been killed in clashes with Syrian forces last month.
Also last month, WND reported that Jihadiya Salafia in the Gaza Strip, a group that represents al-Qaida in the coastal territory, had declared three days of mourning for its own jihadists who died in Syria in recent weeks.
There have been widespread reports of al-Qaida among the Syrian rebels, including in reports by Reuters and the New York Times.
WND reported in May there is growing collaboration between the Syrian opposition and al-Qaida as well as evidence the opposition is sending weapons to jihadists in Iraq, according to an Egyptian security official.
The military official told WND that Egypt has reports of collaboration between the Syrian opposition and three al-Qaida arms, including one the operates in Libya:
- Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
- Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Sunni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner and operating in Yemen and Libya;
- Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.
U.S. officials have stated the White House is providing nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels while widespread reports have claimed the U.S. has been working with Arab countries to ensure the opposition in Syria is well armed.