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By Joel Gilbert
Was Barack Obama correct in refusing to label Benghazi a “terrorist attack”? Were the U.S. installations ordered destroyed by the Libyan government in an internal power struggle with Islamists?
By now, everyone understands what an “al-Qaida-style” terror event looks like. Typically, a handful of suicide bombers attack Americans, taking as many infidels along with them to Paradise as possible. And, it’s all over in a matter of seconds. On rare occasions, hostages are taken in hopes of a quick exchange for jailed militants.
What happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, in no way resembled an al-Qaida strike. The attackers, reportedly a well-armed and highly coordinated force of over 120 men, could have easily overrun and murdered (or held for ransom) the handful of defenders at both U.S. installations. Instead, at the U.S. Mission, small teams penetrated and set buildings on fire with diesel fuel, one by one. Once the Americans were convinced to evacuate, they were allowed to pass through pre-set roadblocks. Only then were the remaining buildings torched. Upon discovering the U.S. ambassador, the clean-shaven attackers (now referred to as “looters” by the media) rushed Chris Stevens to the Benghazi hospital in hopes of saving his life. Turning to the CIA Annex, the attackers lobbed mortars while a CIA rescue team was delayed in Tripoli by the Libyan government. When the Americans decided to withdraw to the Benghazi airport, they were again allowed to evacuate. The CIA Annex was then torched as well.
Rather than an al-Qaida style “terrorist attack,” the Benghazi event is better described as a successful military exercise to terminate United States operations from Benghazi with minimal loss of life.
What was the United States doing in Benghazi and whom did it threaten? Whom did it benefit? The newly elected Libyan president, Mohammed el-Megarif, immediately placed the blame on the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militia Ansar Al Sharia, due to the 9/11 anniversary date. However, upon close examination of the players and timeline of events, the theory that the perpetrators were the powerful Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia) militia seems remote. Instead, events leading up to the attack, as well as its execution, point to the newly elected Libyan government, under orders of former terrorist President el-Megarif, the most likely responsible party.
On Aug. 7, 2012, about a month before the Benghazi attacks, el-Megarif became president of a powerless Libyan government, with no army, facing an existential threat from the Ansar Al Sharia militia. The Islamists were in firm control of Eastern parts of Libya and had recently begun penetrating Tripoli neighborhoods. Worse still, the al-Qaida affiliated militia was refusing to recognize the new Libyan government and was calling for a second revolution.
Meanwhile in Benghazi, Ansar Al Sharia was providing security for the U.S. installations by assigning its February 17th Martyrs Brigade battalion members to guard the Americans. Was Ansar Al Sharia also organizing and selling stolen heavy weapons to the CIA in exchange for cash? The BBC had reported that the CIA was funneling weapons out of Benghazi to Syria through Turkey, under the cover of a $40 million “gun buy-back program” announced in Tripoli by Hillary Clinton in October of 2011. The Times of London reported a Libyan ship had arrived in Turkey on Sept. 6, 2012, with heavy weapons destined for Syria.
Within two weeks of the attacks, President el-Megarif successfully used the outrage over Benghazi to disband Ansar el-Sharia. Did the Libyan government order the attacks on the U.S. installations to eliminate the source of Ansar Al-Sharia’s power, and then assert its authority over the entire country? If true, the implications are profound. It would mean the Libyan government initiated an act of war against the United States, while the Obama administration lied to cover up its involvement in an illegal arms smuggling operation (resulting in dead Americans yet again, as in Fast and Furious), as well as an alliance with an al-Qaida-affiliated group, only 11 years after 9/11. These revelations would have been much more serious than the widely held concern that Obama might be covering for the campaign slogan, “al-Qaida is on the run.”
February 2011 – Following the fall of Gadhafi, the CIA establishes an “Annex” in Benghazi, one mile from the U.S. State Department Mission (often mistakenly referred to as a Consulate). According to U.S. officials speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. effort in Benghazi was “at its heart a CIA operation,” which involved finding and repurchasing heavy weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals. The State Department presence in Benghazi simply “provided diplomatic cover” for the hidden CIA mission,WSJ reported.
Ansar Al Sharia, was most the powerful militia in Libya, with an estimated 5,000 members, and advocated the implementation of strict Shariah law across Libya. According to an August 2012 Library of Congress report, “Al-Qaida in Libya: A Profile,” Ansar Al Sharia is an al-Qaida franchise operation, established in Libya with the assistance of senior al-Qaida operatives dispatched from Pakistan. Yet, the Benghazi-based Ansar Al Sharia militia was providing security for the U.S. Mission by posting members of its February 17th Martyrs Brigades battalion at the U.S. installations in Benghazi.
October 2011 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces in Tripoli that the U.S. is committing $40 million to help Libya “secure and recover its weapons stockpiles.” Department of State Assistant Secretary Andrew Shapiro confirms the buy-back program in Libya was also supported by the U.K. ($1.5 million), the Netherlands ($1.2 million), Germany ($1 million) and Canada ($ 1.6 million). The State Department is specifically looking to acquire 20,000 MANPADS (man-portable air shoulder-fire missiles) that went missing.
The U.S.-sanctioned weapons buy-back program allegedly pays jihadists large sums of money to turn in stolen weapons. Ansar Al Sharia benefits by acquiring cash and weapons to expand its influence, while supplementing its forces with foreign jihadis coming into Benghazi, with some redirected to Syria. Ansar Al Sharia’s prestige is further boosted when the militia takes over security at Benghazi’s Jalaa Hospital and begins making inroad in Tripoli’s poorer neighborhoods.
December 2011 – Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy signs an order to maintain a presence in the Benghazi Mission for another year, his official memo counting 35 “U.S. government personnel,” of whom only eight are State Department employees. Repeated requests for additional security from the U.S. Mission likely went unheeded by the State Department because of the nearby CIA force and the working relationship with Ansar Al Sharia.
February 2012 – Russia and China complain of U.S. arms trafficking in Syria.
May 12, 2012 – The National Front Party is formed in Libya as the successor to the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an anti-Gadhafi armed resistance movement founded in 1981 by future President Mohammed el-Megarif. The National Front Party ideology is considered liberal and progressive. El-Megarif had served under Gadhafi as Libyan ambassador to India from 1978-1980, but deserted to lead an armed resistance (i.e. terrorist) movement.
June 7, 2012 – Ansar Al Sharia leads a rally of armed vehicles along Benghazi’s Tahrir Square and demands the imposition of Islamic law. Its leader, Sheikh Muhammad al-Zawawi, later gave an interview on a local TV station forbidding participation in the upcoming Libyan national elections, on the grounds that they were un-Islamic.
July 7, 2012 – Libyan national elections are held. The Martyr Rafallah Shahati Battalions, a small militia group not affiliated with Ansar Al Sharia, is contracted by the Libyan Ministry of Defense to secure national elections and other Ministry of Defense operations in Eastern Libya. The secular National Front Party wins 48 percent of the vote, with the Justice and Construction Party taking second place with only 10 percent. The Libyan Islamist party Umma al-Wasat secures only one seat, and the Islamist al-Watan,zero.
July 8, 2012 – After the election, Ansar Al Sharia vows to continue its fight for an Islamist state, as its fighters parade through the streets of Benghazi in pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns and draped with the al-Qaida flag. “We want Islamic Shariah laws to govern Libya or we will stage a second revolution,” one bearded young member of the group at the event tells a reporter.
July 30, 2012 – In a 36-minute phone call with Turkish leader Erdogan, President Obama discusses how they can work together and coordinate their efforts to accelerate the political transition in Syria.
Aug. 1, 2012 – The WSJ reports that President Barack Obama is revealed to have signed a secret order earlier in the year, authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government. Obama’s order, known as an “intelligence finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.
Aug. 9, 2012 – The National Front Party-dominated Libyan National Assembly chooses former anti-Gadhafi militant Mohammed el-Megarif as the new president of Libya. The new Libyan government does not have an effective army or police force, and members of the newly elected Parliament publicly acknowledge their government’s limited power. The BBC reports that authorities would quickly seek to achieve full military control over the country.
Sept. 6, 2012 – The Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar (“The Victory”) is received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 35 miles from the Syrian border. According to the Times of London, Al Entisar was carrying 400 tons of cargo (some of it humanitarian), described as the largest consignment of weapons headed for Syria’s rebels on the front lines. Among the cargo were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), which Syrian sources said could be a game-changer for the rebels.
Sept. 11, 2012 – Ambassador Stevens meets with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin one hour before a highly coordinated assault begins at 9:35 p.m. local time, reportedly involving over 120 attackers. February 17 Martyrs Brigade members guarding the compound are run off, the guards later telling the L.A. Times there were scores of professional-looking militants who moved methodically, using well-practiced hand signals.
The well-armed attacking force could have easily overrun and murdered or captured the meager six defenders in the U.S. Mission. Instead, they choose only to infiltrate in small teams, using diesel fuel to set fire to buildings one at a time to drive out the Americans, with minimum loss of life. The Americans are allowed to escape in a vehicle. When Christopher Stevens’ body is discovered, the clean-shaven attackers remove the ambassador to the Jalaa Hospital where sadly Stevens dies.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, a CIA team mobilizes at Tripoli Airport to fly to Benghazi with a rescue force. However, the Libyan government orchestrates a delay. U.S. officials said the team’s departure was delayed by Libyan authorities who insisted the Americans be accompanied by a larger Libyan force on the ground in Benghazi, which would take time to assemble.
At 4 a.m., the attackers begin lobbing mortars at the CIA Annex. Again, no attempt is made to overrun the compound, murder or capture the Americans who are allowed to evacuate through roadblocks to the Benghazi airport. The attackers enter and torch the CIA Annex.
Sept. 12, 2012 – The CIA dispatches local Libyan agents, likely their allies in Ansar Al Sharia, to destroy any sensitive documents at the CIA Annex (the U.S. Mission, which by design had no classified documents, remains unguarded and exposed to curiosity seekers for weeks).
Sept. 13, 2012 – Ansar Al Sharia spokesman Hani Mansouri, at a press conference, denies Ansar Al Sharia had participated in the attacks. He says, “Ansar Al Sharia was doing its work in Jalaa hospital and other places where it has assigned roles.” Mansouri pleads with the news media to accept his denial. Another senior figure in Ansar Al Sharia, Youssef Jihani, also denies the group took part in the attack. “We never approve of killing civilians, especially those who helped us,” he said.
Sept. 14-22, 2012 – President Mohammed el-Megarif grants multiple interviews to U.S. media and the BBC. El-Megarif tells the Associated Press that some members of Ansar Al Sharia carried out the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate. He said the attack had been planned well in advance to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Megarif also points out that Ansar Al Sharia rejects the democratic process in Libya and does not recognize the new Libyan government. Megarif tells “Face the Nation” that evidence shows that some elements of Ansar Al Sharia were used as tools by foreign citizens with ties to al-Qaida to attack the consulate and threaten Libya’s stability.
The Obama administration offers the excuse of a spontaneous demonstration due to a YouTube video, relying on their media allies to back this version of events and look no further. With U.S. elections looming, the Obama administration couldn’t cop to the truth, that once again (as in Fast and Furious) an illegal U.S. arms-smuggling operation may have culminated in the death of Americans, this time a U.S. ambassador! Nor could Obama admit that only 11 years after 9/11, the United States was deeply involved in an arms-smuggling operation from one al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militant group to others in Syria. Nor could the Obama administration admit the illegal gunrunning operation may have gone up in smoke because America’s Islamist allies were becoming a powerful threat to the newly elected democratic Libyan government, due in part to the U.S. arms-smuggling operation.
The United States purchases advertising time on Pakistani TV for Obama and Hillary Clinton to disavow the obscure video, whose producer was arrested. Obama then declares at the United Nations, “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”
September 23, 2012 – In Tripoli, a special wing of the beleaguered Libyan army takes action against militias occupying parts of the city. Ansar Al Sharia headquarters in Benghazi is raided amid mass protests in Benghazi and Ansar Al Sharia is driven out of Benghazi. President Mohammed el-Megarif tells the BBC, “All camps and militias not under the authority of the government will be dissolved and no unauthorized checkpoints allowed.”
Joel Gilbert is the documentary filmmaker who directed and wrote the 2012 Barack Obama expose, “Dreams from My Real Father.” He is Middle East analyst and Islamic history expert, and also directed and wrote the 2010 award-winning “Atomic Jihad: Ahmadinejad’s Coming War and Obama’s Politics of Defeat,” and “Farewell Israel: Bush, Iran and The Revolt of Islam” (2008).