JERUSALEM – Did the Obama administration sabotage the effort to capture one of the most important terrorist figures charged with carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack?
Questions are now being raised about the timing and manner in which the U.S. earlier this month seized wanted militant Abu Anas al-Libi, who was living openly in his home in Libya and likely could have been captured at a different time.
Al-Libi was accused of playing a role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
A new CNN report sheds light on how al-Libi’s capture all but thwarted an operation by covert U.S. operatives who were potentially just hours away from grabbing Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a senior leader of the Ansar Al-Sharia militia wanted for the Benghazi attack.
Al-Libi was seized by U.S. Special Forces on Oct. 5 in a daylight raid outside his home. His whereabouts for years were so well known that he had previous given scores of news media interviews in public places in Libya.
The al-Libi raid was carried out as Special Forces were possibly just hours away from capturing Khattalah after tracking his whereabouts, U.S. officials told CNN.
The news agency said U.S. Forces may have been ready to act to capture Khattalah as soon as the day after al-Libi’s arrest, according to some officials.
CNN revealed a top level White House meeting was scheduled for around Oct. 7 to get Obama’s final approval to capture Khattalah.
However, al-Libi’s capture and its subsequent announcement to news media sent Khattalah deep underground and further caused a major rift with the Libyan government, which demanded an end to any further U.S. raids.
CNN reported the Khattalah raid never materialized “partly because there was so much publicity inside Libya and in the Western press about the al-Libi capture.”
The news network reported the aborted Khattalah capture is leading “to sensitive questions inside the administration about the tradeoff between getting al-Libi and going after the perpetrators of the politically charged Benghazi attack.”
Obama previously vowed to make it is a “priority” to bring the Benghazi suspects “to justice.”
On Oct. 9, the New York Times detailed the efforts to track Khattalah had been in place for months.
The newspaper further reported the Pentagon “has been preparing contingency plans for months in the event Mr. Obama orders a military operation” to seize Khattalah and other terrorists for the Benghazi attack.
Due to al-Libi’s capture, the Libyan government has clamped down on any further U.S. raids, making it more difficult to go after the Benghazi suspects.
As highlighted in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mark Thiessen, it was the Obama administration that first leaked the Libyan government’s approval of al-Libi’s capture. That leak came in the form of a New York Times front page story titled “U.S. Officials Say Libya Approved Commando Raids.”
The publicity created a backlash for Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. He reportedly was kidnapped in retaliation for allowing the U.S. to act on Libyan soil to capture al-Libi.
With research by Joshua Klein.