A terrorist group led by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee was involved in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, the State Department said today for the first time.
Ansar al Sharia in Darnah played a part in the attack, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said today. That group is believed to be led by Abu Sufian Qumu, a Libyan former Guantanamo detainee who was transferred from a U.S. military prison into Libyan custody in 2007, according to cables unearthed by Wikileaks.
“Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi and Ansar al Sharia in Darnah had been involved in terrorist attacks in the past … that includes the Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. special mission and annex in Benghazi,” Psaki confirmed at today’s daily press briefing.
Psaki noted that the State Dept. has not affirmed that Qumu had any planning role in the attack. The State Department has maintained that the attack was not masterminded by extremists and arose amid demonstrations and political turbulence in the Middle East in response to a controversial video depicting Muhammad–a point contended by the Obama administration in the days after the attack and later questioned aggressively by Republicans in Congress.
“There is an ongoing [FBI] investigation, and we’re not asserting that these groups were the only two organizations whose members were involved in the attack, that those organizations pre-planned the attack while in advance or that these organizations are somehow more responsible than others,” Psaki said.
Qumu was a Libyan tank driver who served 10 years in prison, escaped to Afghanistan and trained at a bin Laden camp in the 1990s, fought for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, and received monthly stipends from al Qaeda, according to a 2005 Department of Defense memo leaked to Wikileaks. From that document:
a. Prior History: Detainee served as a tank driver in the Libyan armed forces as a private. The Libyan Government states he was addicted to illegal drugs/narcotics and had been accused of a number of crimes including: murder, physical assault, armed assault, and distributing narcotics. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. In 1993, he escaped from prison and fled to Egypt. He traveled to Afghanistan (AF) and trained at Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) Torkham Camp. After participating in the Soviet jihad, he moved to Sudan (SU). Detainee worked as a truck driver for Wadi Al-’Aqiq, one of UBL’s companies in Suba, SU. The Libyan Govemment further stated detainee joined LIFG and was assigned to the military committee. Under pressure from the Libyan and Sudanese governments, he left Sudan sometime in 1997, using a false Mauritanian passport. He traveled to Pakistan (PK), where he resided in the area near the Al-Atariyah University/mosque (variants Al Yassir Al Khayria, Athariya and Atharia) in Peshawar.
b. Training and Activities: In 1998, he withdrew from the LIFG and joined the Taliban movement (this is likely a reference to Al-Qaida support to the Taliban). He moved to Peshawar where he lived with Abu Zayd Al-Tunisi (assessed to be US9LY-000721). In 2000, he lived in the tribal region of Peshawar, PK (This is an area under tribal control, not government control. UBL was known to have spent time in this area). He communicated with likely extremist elements in Afghanistan via radio during this period, indicating a position of leadership. Around August to November 2001, detainee worked for Al-Wafa in Kabul, AF. Detainee fought with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was wounded in the leg. He left Kabul around mid-November 2001. Khalid Mahmound Abdul Al Wahad, US9JO-000589, stated detainee fled to Peshawar, where he likely assisted the Qadhafi Foundation in relocating extremists and their families. Detainee arrived in Peshawar no later than 4 December 2001, after transiting first through Logar, AF, and then Khowst, AF.
The Libyan government, then led by Muammar al Qaddafi, released Qumu in 2008, multiple news outlets have reported.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the State Department will identify Ansar al Sharia in Darnah, Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, and Ansar al Sharia in Tunisia as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and identify Qumu and two others as “specifically designated global terrorists.” These moves will allow the U.S. government to freeze assets and ban material support to the groups.
The news of Qumu’s involvement plays into a debate about Benghazi over whether al Qaeda was involved in the attack. The State Department has repeatedly said there was no link whatsoever between “core al Qaeda” in Pakistan and the attack, noting that extremists in Libya are not directly connected to al Qaeda’s top leadership.