A key suspect in the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was killed in a U.S. drone strike last week in Mosul that targeted him because he was an ISIS battlefield commander, U.S. military officials said today.
"Ali Awni al-Harzi, a known ISIL operative and organizational intermediary who was a person of interest in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack against U.S. personnel in Benghazi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, on June 15,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. ISIL is the U.S. government name for ISIS.
“Al-Harzi operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East. His death degrades ISIL's ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism."
A U.S. official told ABC News that al-Harzi was killed in a U.S. drone strike and that he was targeted because of his leadership position as an ISIS battlefield commander in Iraq.
The Tunisian al-Harzi was designated from early on as a person of interest in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Analysis of video taken the night of the deadly attack placed him at the consulate and made him a person of interest, U.S. authorities said.
He was arrested in Turkey the following month when he and another man tried to enter that country with false passports. When he was deported to Tunisia, the United States pressed to interview him about his possible role in the consulate attack.
In December 2012, FBI officials were able to interview al-Hazri but he was released by Tunisian authorities a month later.
U.S. authorities believe he had tried to make his way to Syria.
"Ali Awni al-Harzi was responsible for planning hundreds of suicide attacks across the world, and was one of the first foreign fighters to join ISIL," said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "Given his role within the terrorist organization, and his previous leadership in Al Qaeda in Iraq, he was also responsible for recruiting foreign fighters and sending them to the fight in Syria. He is also suspected of involvement in their hostage program, and to have played a role in the 2011 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that tragically killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens."
"While it may have taken years to track down and eliminate Ali Awni al-Harzi, those who kill Americans must understand that our memories are long and our commitment to justice is steadfast." Schiff added.
In April, the State Department designated al-Harzi as a “specially designated Global Terrorist." A statement described him as a “Syrian-based Tunisian national” who “joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia."