Former Gitmo detainee implicated in Benghazi attack
U.S. officials suspect a former Guantanamo Bay detainee played a role in the attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, and are planning to designate the group he leads as a foreign terrorism organization, according to officials with the plans.
Militiamen under the command of Abu Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in the Libyan city of Darnah, participated in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, U.S. officials said.
Witnesses have told American officials that Qumu's men were in Benghazi before the attack took place on Sept. 11, 2012, according to the officials. It's unclear if they where there as part of a preplanned attack or out of happenstance. The drive from Darnah to Benghazi is several hours.
The State Department is expected to tie Qumu's group to the Benghazi attack when it designates three branches of Ansar al-Sharia in Darnah, Tunisia and Benghazi as foreign terrorism organizations in the coming days.
Qumu and two other individuals, including militia leaders Ahmed Abu Khattala and Seif Allah bin Hassine, will also be identified as “specially designated global terrorists,” a determination that allows U.S. officials to freeze their financial assets and bar American citizens and companies from doing business with them.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the developments.
About a dozen criminal complaints have been filed in the Benghazi case, with more expected. U.S. intelligence officials have said several militias had a hand in the Benghazi attack. Some of those individuals charged so far are from Darnah, although it's not clear if they are tied to Qumu's group. Khattala has already been named in a criminal complaint.
The FBI declined to comment Tuesday.
U.S officials are also investigating whether any of the people involved in the Benghazi raid had a role in the slaying of Ronnie Smith, an American schoolteacher who was gunned down while jogging in the city last month.
Lawless conditions in eastern Libya have frustrated U.S. efforts to investigate the attack in Benghazi and capture those responsible. U.S. officials scrapped a plan to snatch Khattala in Benghazi for fear that American action could trigger unrest and possibly destabilize the Libyan government.
Khattala, meanwhile, has flaunted his freedom, giving interviews to U.S. reporters as the FBI watches from afar. Khattala has denied any involvement in the attack.
Qumu, 54, a Libyan from Darnah, is well known to U.S. intelligence officials. A former tank driver in the Libyan army, he served 10 years in prison in the country before fleeing to Egypt and then to Afghanistan.
In 1993, he trained at one of Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan and later worked for a bin Laden company in Sudan, where the al-Qaida leader lived for three years, according to U.S. military files disclosed by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.