JERUSALEM – In a development unreported by news media, the State Department’s lead Benghazi investigator, Thomas Pickering, apparently leaked important classified information at a House hearing last week on the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack.
Pickering revealed there is evidence that an Egyptian organization was behind the attack on the U.S. mission that killed U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
He further refused to deny there was a plan to kidnap Stevens.
Pickering was the author of the State Department’s 39-page Accountability Review Board report, or ARB, which largely absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top State officials of wrongdoing regarding the Benghazi attack.
At a House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on Benghazi last week, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wy., asked Pickering whether Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood may have been behind the attack.
“Is it true that there’s documentation that the Muslim Brotherhood and operatives from Egypt were involved in the attack?” she asked.
Pickering replied: “Our report indicates that one Egyptian organization which is named in the report was possibly involved. And I am not sure, I think that that’s in the unclassified. I hope it is.”
The unclassified ARB report – reviewed in full by WND – does not name any Egyptian organization as possibly being behind the attack.
The only mention of an Egyptian group in the unclassified ARB is in relation to a May 18, 2012, RPG attack on the Benghazi International Committee of the Red Cross as well as a May 28, 2012, threat issued by the group on social media against the U.S.
The organization named in the ARB is the “Omar Abduurrahman group,” which was demanding the release of the so-called “blind sheik,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, held in the U.S. over the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The unclassified ARB names the Egyptian group in a section on previous attacks in Benghazi in the run up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. The unclassified ARB does not name the organization as possibly being behind the Benghazi attack.
Pickering may have further stumbled when Lummis asked, “Is it true that they were planning to kidnap the ambassador and it went wrong?”
“I can’t comment on that,” Pickering replied, followed by a long pause.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa stepped in and changed the subject.
Later in the hearing, Pickering further commented on the kidnap issue.
He stated: “Kidnapping seemed to me to be far-fetched. Because in effect in the testimony that was given and the public report, they did not make a serious attempt to go into the closed area of the villa. It is not even sure in my view that they knew the ambassador was there. So I would say, while I said I didn’t want to touch that, I would say in retrospect it doesn’t seem highly likely. It could be. but I don’t think so.”
An exchange between Issa and Pickering hinted that Pickering may have revealed classified information in his testimony.
Issa told Pickering, “It was clear that you didn’t understand that she (Lummis) was asking about the public report.”
Pickering interjected, “Because I know of, put it this way, unpublic information.”
“We do not want unpublic information here today,” Issa lectured.
Egypt’s Morsi behind murder of U.S. ambassador?
Circumstantial evidence possibly links the attack to former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi’s campaign to free Abdel-Rahman.
The blind sheik’s release has been one of the Morsi’s main foreign policy issues.
In July, several major Arabic newspapers ran with a story, first reported by the Kuwaiti paper Al Rai, quoting a Libyan intelligence report on the Benghazi attack that mentions an alleged connection to Morsi and other prominent Egyptian figures.
The report, prepared by Mahmoud Ibrahim Sharif, director of national security for Libya, is based on purported confessions of some of the jihadists arrested at the scene.
The report states that “among the more prominent figures whose names were mentioned by cell members during confessions were: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi; preacher Safwat Hegazi; Saudi businessman Mansour Kadasa, owner of the satellite station Al-Nas; Egyptian Sheik Muhammad Hassan; former presidential candidate, Hazim Salih Abu Ismail.”
Unsubstantiated Arabic-language reports from the Middle East also claimed passport belonging to the alleged killer of Stevens had been recovered at the home of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat Al-Shater.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reportedly visited al-Shater in prison, spending over an hour talking to the Brotherhood leader.
‘Dr. Morsi sent us’
There is other information pointing to Morsi’s possible involvement in the Benghazi attack.
YouTube videos of the attack find some of the jihadists speaking an Egyptian dialect of Arabic, as previously reported by FrongPageMag.
One of the videos shows a jihadist carrying out the attack while stating in an Egyptian dialect, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, Dr. Morsi sent us.”
There were also unconfirmed reports Egypt would not allow the U.S. to interrogate suspects in the attack.
Originally, the Obama administration claimed there were popular protests outside the U.S. Benghazi mission over an obscure anti-Muhammad film. It would later be determined no such demonstrations took place; instead the attacks were a coordinated jihadist assault.
The White House sought at first to connect the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack to protests that same day in Cairo, Egypt, in which rioters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy and tore down the American flag.
The Cairo protests were widely reported as acts of defiance against the anti-Muhammad movie. However, the protests were announced days in advance as part of a movement to free Rahman.
In July 2012, Rahman’s son, Abdallah Abdel Rahman, threatened to organize a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and detain the employees inside.
On the day of the Sept. 11, 2012, protests in Cairo, CNN’s Nic Robertson interviewed the son of Rahman, who described the protest as being about freeing his father. No Muhammad film was mentioned. A big banner calling for Rahman’s release can be seen as Robertson walked to the embassy protests.
Targeting ‘Christian overseers’
The release of Rahman has been a key issue for Morsi. One week before the attack in Benghazi, Morsi once again called for the U.S. to free Rahman.
A jihadist group seeking the release of the blind sheik and calling itself the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades reportedly was previously responsible for a June 6, 2012, bomb attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi. The bomb exploded at the perimeter to the facility, wounding one.
There is information murdered U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens or another U.S. employee was the target of the attack. The SITE monitoring group documented the Rahman Brigades said they were “targeting a group of ‘Christian overseers’ who were preparing to receive one of the ‘heads of instigation’ from the State Department.”
The group was calling for Rahman’s release as well as vengeance for the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the most senior al-Qaida operatives. Al-Libi, of Libyan descent, was killed by a U.S. drone in Pakistan in June 2012.
CNN previously cited a report that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades was also responsible for a rocket attack against the convoy of the British ambassador in Benghazi on June 11 and an attack against the Red Cross in Misrata on June 12, 2012.
Further, the deadly January 2013 assault on an Algerian natural-gas plant was reportedly carried out as part of an attempt to trade hostages for the release of Rahman. Thirty-eight people were killed in a three-day siege that ended the hostage crisis.
WND previously reported on the ties of the Algerian assault crisis to the attack in Benghazi. The ties run through al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.
CNN quoted sources disclosing several Yemeni men belonging to AQAP took part in the Benghazi attack.
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 the jihad organization led by Moktar Belmoktar.
Belmoktar, an Algerian, is a senior leader of the Islamic Maghreb. He claimed responsibility for the Algeria gas facility attack.
Another intelligence source told CNN that Belmoktar had received a call in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack from someone in or close to the city.
The person on the other end of the call stated, “Mabruk, Mabruk!” meaning “congratulations” in Arabic, according to the source.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.