Senate report: Terrorists 'affiliated' with multiple al Qaeda groups involved in Benghazi attack
The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released its review of the intelligence concerning the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The report confirms that multiple parts of al Qaeda's international terrorist network have been linked to the attack.
"Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM, Ansar al Sharia, AQAP, and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks," the report reads.
The committee notes that there is insufficient intelligence to conclude whether or not the leaders of any of these groups ordered their fighters to take part in the attack.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are both official branches of al Qaeda and have sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's emir. The head of AQAP, Nasir al Wuhayshi, was also appointed the general manager of al Qaeda's network in August 2013.
While it is not clear what specific intelligence the committee is relying on, press reports have pointed to connections between the attackers and both AQIM and AQAP.
CNN previously reported that several Yemeni men belonging to AQAP were directly involved in the assault.
The Mohammad Jamal Network is run by an Egyptian who was trained by al Qaeda in the 1980s and has long been a subordinate to Zawahiri. In the 1990s, Jamal served as a commander in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which merged with al Qaeda.
Jamal was arrested multiple times in Egypt, but was released following the uprisings that overthrew Hosni Mubarak's regime in 2011. Jamal was in direct contact with Zawahiri in 2011 and 2012. Some of Jamal's letters to Zawahiri, which were recovered on Jamal's laptop, have been published in the Egyptian press.
According to both the US government and the United Nations, Jamal conspired with AQAP, AQIM, and al Qaeda's senior leadership. Jamal, who was re-arrested by Egyptian authorities in late 2012, was seeking to establish his own official branch of al Qaeda.
Jamal established training camps in Libya, as well as elsewhere, and some of his trainees reportedly took part in the assault on the US Mission and Annex in Benghazi.
Members of both Ansar al Sharia in Derna and the group's Benghazi branch took part in the attack, according to the US State Department. Ansar al Sharia in Derna is led by an ex-Guantanamo detainee, Sufian Ben Qumu, who has long served as an al Qaeda operative and was deemed a specially designated global terrorist by the State Department earlier this month.
Intelligence on al Qaeda's activities inside Libya prior to Sept. 11, 2012
The committee's report notes that the US intelligence community "produced hundreds of analytic reports in the months preceding" the Benghazi attack and these reports provided "strategic warning that militias and terrorist and affiliated groups had the capability and intent to strike US and Western facilities and personnel in Libya."
While none of these warnings contained specific details about the attack that would unfold on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, the increasing terrorist threat was noted time and again.
The reports pointed to the "growing ties" between al Qaeda's "regional nodes" and terrorists in Libya, the increasing threat caused by terrorists connecting with al Qaeda "associates" in Libya, and the extensive infrastructure that three al Qaeda groups had established inside the country.
One such report, "Libya: Terrorists Now Targeting US and Western Interests," was produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) on June 12, 2012. The "report noted recent attacks against the US Mission compound in Benghazi," according to the committee, as well as the "growing ties between al Qaeda (AQ) regional nodes and Libya-based terrorists."
The Senate committee cites this passage from the DIA's report: "We expect more anti-US terrorist attacks in eastern Libya [redacted], due to terrorists' greater presence there... This will include terrorists conducting more ambush and IED [improved explosive device] attacks as well as more threats against [redacted]."
A June 18, 2012 daily intelligence report by the Pentagon's Joint Staff, "Terrorism: Conditions Ripe for More Attacks, Terrorist Safe Haven in Libya," assessed that terrorist attacks will "increase in number and lethality as terrorists connect with AQ associates in Libya."
Citations to a July 2, 2012 report by the DIA on Ansar al Sharia's founding in Libya are blacked out in the committee's report. But according to a footnote, the report apparently referenced Sufian Ben Qumu.
A CIA report authored on July 6, 2012 and entitled, "Libya: Al Qaeda Establishing Sanctuary," reads:
Al Qaeda-affiliated groups and associates are exploiting the permissive security environment in Libya to enhance their capabilities and expand their operational reach. This year, Muhammad Jamal's Egypt-based network, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.
The three groups identified by the CIA as part of al Qaeda's operations inside Libya would contribute terrorists to the Benghazi attack just over two months later.
Additional intelligence reports cited by the committee prior to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack pointed to the growing safe haven enjoyed by terrorists inside Libya, as well as the threat they posed to US interests.
Note: Some passages in this article are taken from a previously published report at The Weekly Standard's web site. The spellings of al Qaeda, other words, and abbreviations have been standardized throughout this article.