JERUSALEM – Did U.S. and other Western arms shipments to jihadist-saturated Libyan and Syrian rebel groups contribute to al-Qaida’s growing worldwide threat?
Al-Qaida’s resurgence may now be culminating in the terrorist group’s reported plot to target U.S. and Western interests, prompting a weeklong shutdown of U.S. embassies across the Middle East and North Africa.
On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., contended that an emboldened al-Qaida has been “on steroids” following the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
“I had a briefing with the vice president and it is scary,” Graham stated on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Al-Qaida is on the rise in this part of the world.
“They attacked our consulate, they killed an ambassador, a year has passed, and nobody has paid a price,” he added. “After Benghazi, these al-Qaida types are really on steroids thinking we’re weaker and they’re stronger.”
Although Graham did not specify other al-Qaida plots since Benghazi, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, led by Algerian jihadist Moktar Belmoktar, claimed responsibility for the Algeria gas facility attack in January in which 38 people were killed during a three-day siege.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is believed to be behind the current threat to the U.S., which is said to be serious and specific.
AQAP has been tied to the Boston Marathon bombing. AQAP is behind Inspire magazine, the periodical thought to have provided bomb-building instructions for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston terrorists.
The group was the first al-Qaida affiliate to comment on the Benghazi attack, releasing a statement that the assaults on the U.S. mission and nearby CIA annex were revenge for the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the most senior al-Qaida operatives.
AQAP did not directly claim responsibility for the Benghazi attacks.
Al-Libi, of Libyan descent, was believed to have been killed in Pakistan in June 2012.
Lost in the news media coverage about the U.S. response to the Libya attacks was that one day before the assaults, on Sept. 10, 2012, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video calling for attacks on Americans in Libya to avenge the death of al-Libi.
The 42-minute video announced the death of al-Libi. Released on a jihadi online forum less than 18 hours before the Benghazi attack, Zawahiri urged jihadists, and particularly those in Libya, to avenge the killing of al- Libi.
“His blood urges you and incites you to fight and kill the crusaders,” he said.
In May, CNN quoted sources disclosing several Yemeni men belonging to AQAP took part in the Benghazi attacks.
One senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN that “three or four members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula” took part in the attack.
Another source quoted by CNN as being briefed on the Benghazi investigation said Western intelligence services “suspect the men may have been sent by the group specifically to carry out the attack.”
“But it’s not been ruled out that they were already in the city and participated as the opportunity arose,” continued the CNN report.
CNN further quoted one source revealing counter-terrorism officials learned the identity of the three men and later traced them to northern Mali, where they are believed to have connected with Belmoktar’s jihadist organization, which would go on to carry out the Algerian gas complex assault.
Arms to Libyan rebels
This newfound emboldening of al-Qaida follows the reported streaming of massive quantities of weapons to Libya and later to Syria in support of the rebels in those countries, some of whom are known to include al-Qaida-linked groups.
During the fight against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011, it was widely reported the Obama administration coordinated foreign arms shipments via cut outs to the Libyan rebels.
In December 2012, the New York Times reported that after discussions among members of the National Security Council, the Obama administration backed arms shipments to Libyan rebels from both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
American officials told the Times that the UAE first approached the Obama administration during the early months of the Libyan uprising, asking for permission to ship American-built weapons that the
The Times further reported in 2012 the White House “secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.”
The Libyan rebels were known to include al-Qaida organizations.
In May 2013, the United Nations reported weapons initially sent to Libya are proliferating at an “alarming rate,” fueling conflicts in Mali, Syria and beyond.
The report by the U.N. Security Council’s Group of Experts said the North African state had become a key source of weapons transfers in the region, specifically blaming Qatar and the UAE for arming the rebels.
While not referencing the U.S. support for the arms transfers, the U.N. experts said they had found that Qatar and the UAE had breached the arms embargo on Libya during the 2011 uprising by arming the rebels.
The experts said Qatar had denied the accusation, while the United Arab Emirates had not responded.
“Some 18 months after the end of the conflict, some of this materiel remains under the control of non-state actors within Libya and has been found in seizures of military material being trafficked out of Libya,” according to the report.
The U.N. cites cases, both proven and under investigation, of illicit transfers from Libya to more than 12 countries and also to terror and criminal groups, including heavy and light weapons, man-portable air defense systems, small arms and related ammunition and explosives and mines.
Arms to jihadists in Syria
Reuters reported the U.N. experts who penned the May UN report said transfers of arms to Syrian rebels had been organized from various locations in Libya, including Misurata and Benghazi, via Turkey or northern Lebanon.
“The significant size of some shipments and the logistics involved suggest that representatives of the Libyan local authorities might have at least been aware of the transfers, if not actually directly involved,” the experts said.
Confirming WND’s exclusive reporting for over a year, the New York Times in April reported that since early 2012, the CIA has been aiding Arab governments and Turkey in obtaining and shipping weapons to the Syrian rebels. The White House later openly admitted to arming the Syrian rebels.
The Times reported that the weapons airlifts began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanding into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows.
The Times further revealed that from offices at “secret locations,” American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia. They have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive.
U.S. facing al-Qaida payback strike?
Now, a U.S. effort to collect weapons from al-Qaida rebels groups in Syria may be behind the current al-Qaida threat.
On Sunday, WND quoted informed Middle Eastern security sources explaining the current al-Qaida terrorist plot against U.S. and Western targets is a direct result of U.S.-supported efforts currently underway to purge al-Qaida affiliates from the ranks of the Syrian rebels.
The sources say they have specific knowledge of the terrorist threat that has prompted a worldwide travel alert and the closure of 22 U.S. embassies.
The sources said the U.S. has been working with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states to support a U.S.-armed Free Syria Army effort to cleanse al-Qaida affiliates from among the rebel ranks, including al-Nusra and other groups.
For months now the U.S. has reportedly been providing lethal support to the Syrian rebels amid widespread fears the Western weapons could fall into the hands of al-Qaida organizations known to work alongside the Free Syria Army.
Now with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad closing in on the insurgency targeting his regime, U.S. allies in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East are deeply concerned the freshly armed al-Qaida groups could turn their efforts from Assad to destabilizing the moderate Arab regimes.
Toward that affect, according to the Middle Eastern security sources, the U.S. has been heavily aiding the Free Syrian Army in its efforts to disarm or eliminate the al-Qaida groups fighting as Syrian rebels.
The Middle Eastern security sources said the current al-Qaida plot is an attempt to dissuade the U.S. from further supporting the disarming efforts.