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TEL AVIV – More information is emerging that a puzzling decision by the Obama administration likely sabotaged the effort to capture one of the most important terrorist figures charged with carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Questions surround the timing and manner in which the U.S. in October 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.

It is now becoming increasingly clear the decision to capture al-Libi 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.

The Libyan government reportedly granted the U.S. permission in October to seize both al-Libi and Khattalah.

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.

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Last week, the Washington Post reported it is increasingly unlikely the U.S. will have another opportunity to capture Khattala in the foreseeable future.

One official told the Post that Khattala is operating in eastern Libya with impunity.

“He’s as free as a bird,” the official said

Echoing a WND exclusive article from October, the Post is reporting the al-Libi raid essentially made it nearly impossible to seize Khattala.

Reported the Post: “Law enforcement officials said that the United States might have missed its best chance to arrest Khattala earlier this year. The U.S. intelligence community hatched a plan to snatch Khattala and … al-Libi. The planning took months, requiring coordination between the FBI, the CIA and the Army’s elite Delta Force.”

The Post said the Khattala mission was scrapped, and any plans to remove him from Libya were put on the back burner.

The paper quoted American officials claiming that another raid to seize Khattala could “lead to the toppling of Zeidan’s government and increase the chaos in a country that the United States would like to see stabilize.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House intelligence committee, isn’t buying the explanation.

“I don’t subscribe to that theory, and that is a theory,” Rogers told the Post.

The claim that a new raid can topple the Libyan government is largely based on reports Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was briefly kidnapped in retaliation for allowing the U.S. to act on Libyan soil to capture al-Libi.

However, it was the Obama administration that first leaked the details of the al-Libi capture, leading to the alleged kidnapping, as highlighted in a previous Washington Post opinion piece by Mark Thiessen. The leak came in the form of a New York Times front-page story titled “U.S. Officials Say Libya Approved Commando Raids.”

Hours from potential raid

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 Khattalah.

Al-Libi was seized by U.S. Special Forces on Oct. 5 in a daylight raid outside his home. His whereabouts for years was so well known that he had 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 reported that the efforts to track Khattalah had been in place for months.

The newspaper further reported the Pentagon had been preparing contingency plans for months in the event Obama ordered a military operation to seize Khattalah and other terrorists for the Benghazi attack.

With research by Joshua Klein.

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