Amid the tumult of the Arab Spring, the uprising in
has proven particularly bloody. In an eight-month civil war, rebels supported
by NATO air power brought Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year tyranny an end. But a year
later, the promise of a democratic Libya
remains unfulfilled, as the transitional government fights various militias
and terrorist groups. Libya
In late August 2012, attackers affiliated with al-Qaeda attacked the
U.S. , killing U.S. Ambassador
Chris Stevens and three State Department employees, and raising fears about the
group's resurgence in the country. Benghazi
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies' experts examine the emergence of post-Qaddafi
from a range of perspectives. FDD senior fellows John
Abaza and Lee
Smith study Libya in the context of the Arab Spring, and U.S.
relations with the Arab world, while Thomas
Roggio, and Daveed
Gartenstein-Ross write extensively on the terror groups that have
emerged there. Libya
At the height of the Libyan civil war in April 2011 , Joscelyn testified before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, warning of al-Qaeda's increasing activity in eastern
especially in the city of Libya ,
home to a large number of militants who fought U.S.-led forces in Derna .
Only four months later, Joscelyn's fears proved well founded, when
terrorists killed Ambassador Stevens. Iraq
develop into a successful Arab democracy, or descend into anarchy, becoming a
safe haven for terrorist groups? Libya
On September 21, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to reporters before a meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister. She addressed the September 11 assault on
facilities in U.S. . Benghazi, Libya
“What happened was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans.”
The second part of
comment generated little interest. Her vow to bring to justice the perpetrators
of the attacks was the kind of perfunctory promise we expect to hear from any
politician after any attack, particularly one so brazen. Of course it would be
a top priority of the Obama administration and its lead diplomat to understand
the attacks and punish those who committed them. Clinton
Yet four months later,
promise is notable precisely because it has gone unfulfilled. No one has been
“brought to justice”—a fact that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. “We’re
not even close,” says one Clinton
official involved in the investigation. U.S.
And jihadists in the region, no doubt emboldened by the lack of
response to the attacks, have taken to taunting the American investigators and
feebleness. U.S. has very
little to show for its investigation of the Ben-ghazi attacks. One leading
suspect is in custody—Egyptian custody—and we’re being denied access to him.
Another sipped a strawberry frappe in the lobby of a luxury hotel in Washington
as he told a New York Times reporter that he felt no need to hide
from the Benghazi .
And when a third suspect was freed from a Tunisian prison earlier this month,
the U.S. government was given no warning, but extremists belonging to an al
Qaeda-linked group apparently had advance notice. United States
If there is any urgency to the
government’s efforts to “bring to justice” the terrorists, it’s well hidden. It
took the FBI team assigned to investigate U.S.
nearly a month to arrive there. Later, after they had supposedly scoured the Benghazi
consulate, on two separate occasions reporters found highly sensitive documents
on the floor—some including the names of Libyans working with the U.S.
government. Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, visited U.S.
as part of the investigation for the first time last week. Libya
But nothing demonstrates the lack of urgency so much as the case of Ali Ani al Harzi, a jihadist who was detained in
for his suspected involvement in the attacks until his surprising release on
January 8. Tunisia
Harzi did not stay in
after the attacks, but instead made his way to Libya .
It was there in early October, at the request of the Turkey
government, that Harzi and a fellow Tunisian were arrested. Harzi was
reportedly en route to join the jihad against Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling
regime in nearby U.S. . Syria
In mid-October, Harzi was deported from
to Turkey .
During a televised interview on November 1, Tunisian interior minister Ali
Larayedh explained that Harzi was “strongly suspected to have been involved in
the attack of Tunisia .” Benghazi
government, which had provided the intelligence that led to Harzi’s capture,
asked the Tunisians for access to him. These requests were met with silence,
then stonewalling. The State Department, apparently concerned about the
stability of the country’s young, post-Arab Spring government, elected in October,
did little to pressure the Tunisians for access. Republicans in Congress, led
by Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss in the Senate and Frank Wolf in the
House, threatened the Tunisian government with consequences for its lack of
In early November, Graham and Chambliss announced that the Tunisians had agreed in principle to allow
investigators to interview Harzi in the presence of his lawyer and a judge. But
days passed, then weeks, and the FBI interrogators who had gone to U.S.
to question Harzi were not given access to him. One source familiar with the
investigation tells The Weekly Standard that FBI agents spent five weeks in Tunisia
as the government resisted requests for time with Harzi. Tunis
Meanwhile, legislators were urging the State Department to increase pressure on its Tunisian counterpart. Wolf worked behind the scenes to encourage State to condition future aid on access to Harzi. Since the new government was established, the
has provided more than $300 million in aid. In September 2011, United States
qualified for additional funds through the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s
Threshold Program. Tunisia
The State Department responded to Wolf’s efforts by putting him off. “We are in regular contact with the Tunisian government on this case and Tunisian authorities are cooperating with us through normal law enforcement channels,” wrote Assistant Secretary of State David Adams on December 17. “As this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we cannot provide further detail.”
did, however, make the case for more aid to ,
regardless of its lack of cooperation. “Continued Tunisia
support is critical to U.S. ’s
successful democratic transition,” Tunisia Adams wrote, pressing
the need for more funds for Tunisian security forces and economic development.
The FBI finally interviewed Harzi on December 22 for three hours. Following that session,
officials were divided about whether Harzi had provided valuable information
but agreed that he remained an important suspect in the U.S.
attacks and a potential source of intelligence on al Qaeda and its affiliates. Benghazi
Harzi has strong jihadist credentials. As first reported by Eli Lake in the Daily Beast, U.S. officials have identified Harzi’s brother as “a midlevel planner for al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq,” who arranges “the travel of fighters from North Africa to Syria’s al Qaeda-linked opposition, known as the al-Nusra Front.” The al-Nusra Front is a direct extension of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), an al Qaeda affiliate that has sworn allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri. In December, the State Department revealed that al-Nusra, which has become the most lethal part of the Syrian insurgency, is under the “control” of AQI’s leader.
Harzi had tried to join his brother, and Al Qaeda in
before. In 2006, Tunisian authorities arrested Harzi under strict
counterterrorism laws for showing a desire to wage jihad in Iraq .
Harzi had been in touch with his al Qaeda brother, who was shuttling recruits
into Iraq to
fight the U.S.-led coalition. Harzi was imprisoned until after President Zine
El Abidine Ben Ali’s government in Iraq
fell on Tunisia January 14, 2011.
Once granted amnesty and released, Harzi made his way to
by Benghazi September 11, 2012.
The same day the FBI conducted its interview with Harzi, a media outlet associated with the leading al Qaeda-linked extremist group in Tunisia, Ansar al Sharia Tunisia, posted online photographs purportedly showing three FBI agents who participated in that session.
Ansar al Sharia
posting was first discovered by the Tunisia SITE
Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites and online forums. The
headline reads “Exclusive Pictures of the FBI Agents who Investigated Brother
Ali al-Harzi (The Case of Killing the American Foreigner in ).”
The group claimed that “despite being forcefully prevented from taking
pictures, we were able to take some exclusive pictures” of the three FBI
Shortly after the FBI’s visit with Harzi in December, Ansar al Sharia
released a video on YouTube showing a lawyer discussing Harzi’s case. The lawyer
addressed the FBI’s role in the questioning. The video begins with an
introductory sentence that reads: “Lawyer Hafiz Ghadoun talks about the case of
Brother Ali al Harzi—Allah free him—and confirms the presence of investigators
from the FBI [sent there] to interrogate him.” Tunisia
On January 7, a judge in
ruled that there was not enough evidence to continue holding Harzi, and the Tunis
suspect was quickly released. Benghazi
had no prior warning that Harzi would be freed, but Ansar al Sharia Washington
apparently did. Tunisia
The following day, the group posted a video on its Facebook page showing Harzi walking out of jail into the arms of his joyous supporters, who are not identified. Harzi thanks Allah for his freedom, but begs that his still-imprisoned comrades not be forgotten.
Why did the Tunisians allow Harzi to rejoin his jihadist brothers? “The government is more afraid of them than us,” says a senior congressional Republican with access to the intelligence on
For good reason. The Benghazi
government hasn’t so much as issued a statement expressing regret that the
Tunisians released Harzi. U.S.
There’s a reason Ansar al Sharia
has taken such great interest in Tunisia
and Harzi’s case. Many of the suspects in the consulate attack are members of
Ansar al Sharia—the same name used by Harzi’s cheerleaders in Benghazi —a
militia based in Tunisia . Benghazi
In August 2012, just weeks before the assault on the consulate, the Defense Department and Library of Congress published a report (“Al Qaeda in
A Profile”) that discussed connections between the two Ansar al Sharia groups.
The report’s authors concluded that Ansar al Sharia in Libya
“has increasingly embodied al Qaeda’s presence in Libya ,
as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and
hatred of the West, especially the Libya .”
Moreover, the “Facebook sites of Ansar al Sharia in Libya and the group in
Tunisia appear similar in design and content and also share contacts,
suggesting coordination between the groups.” United States
On September 14, three days after the attack in
Ansar al Sharia Benghazi
stormed the Tunisia
embassy in U.S. . The embassy and
an American school were ransacked, causing millions of dollars in property
damage. An al Qaeda-style black banner was raised over the embassy where the
American flag usually flies. Tunis
Ansar al Sharia
is headed by Seifallah ben Hassine (aka Abu Iyad al Tunisi), who has been
designated an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist by the United Nations and the Tunisia
government. Other designated al Qaeda terrorists hold leadership positions in
the group as well. U.S.
While the Obama administration has not publicly drawn a connection between the terrorist groups that assaulted the
diplomatic facilities in U.S.
and Benghazi , others have. In early
January, for instance, Al-Hayat (an Arabic paper in Tunis )
reported that members of Ansar al Sharia London
travel to Tunisia
to receive extensive terrorist training in camps “under the supervision of”
Ansar al Sharia Libya .
Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has seen enough
evidence to conclude that the two Ansar al Sharias are effectively the “same
We are left, then, with an uncomfortable set of facts. Despite its many promises, after four months of a criminal investigation, the
government has made little progress on bringing the U.S.
attackers to justice. The Obama administration, which came to office trumpeting
“smart power,” has shown itself unable to produce cooperation even from
governments receiving vast sums of aid from the Benghazi without congressional threats. And
now, the same terrorist organizations that supplied the attackers for the
assaults on American facilities in United
and Benghazi are openly threatening
FBI investigators and celebrating the release of one of the few suspects in the
Tunis 9/11/12 attacks.
That’s not justice, it’s humiliation.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
28th January 2013 - The Weekly Standard
28th January 2013 - The Weekly Standard
Co-authored by Stephen Hayes