American officials have identified a former inmate of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as a possible key organizer of the Benghazi attack which killed the ambassador to Libya 16 months ago, the British Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Abu Sufyan bin Qumu, a leading Libyan terrorist, was named at the time as a possible suspect in the September 11, 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi in which the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed.
He went to ground shortly afterwards and no evidence was ever forthcoming. However, the Washington Post reports that he and two other men will soon be added to the U.S. list of "specially designated" international terrorists, partly because of their alleged involvement in the attacks.
The disclosure is doubly important, firstly because it charges a known Al-Qaeda associate in Benghazi with partial responsibility for the attack and secondly because the analysis provided by U.S. intelligence claims his men drove to Benghazi from the city of Derna, where he is based, on the day of the attack, suggesting some element of planning.
A bitter political row has ensued ever since the attack, with Republicans claiming that the Obama administration deliberately tried to mislead the public into thinking the attack was a spontaneous protest that got out of control rather than a terrorist assault, perhaps inspired by Al-Qaeda.
U.S. military leaders have defended their response to the 2012 assault on the consulate in Benghazi. The House Intelligence Committee has accused the White House of withholding support for an FBI investigation into the attack.
No clear evidence has emerged to tie any Al-Qaeda group directly to the attack, noted the Guardian. The man most often accused of orchestrating it is Ahmed Abu Khattala, founder of Libya's Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia.
Abu Khattalah was seen at the compound when it was overrun but, while he has admitted being at the scene he has denied involvement in the attack. He was named in sealed criminal charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department against several suspects in the Benghazi attack.
The Guardian noted that Bin Qumu leads a group of the same name, Ansar al-Sharia, in Derna, and it remains a subject of dispute whether the two are related. The name means simply "Supporters of Sharia".
However, it is several hours' drive from Derna to Benghazi, too far for Bin Qumu's men to have arrived only in response to a protest that had already started, suggesting they at least knew about the planned attack unless their presence was merely coincidental.
There is no comment on whether Bin Qumu was personally present, noted the report.
Bin Qumu is believed to have trained with Osama bin Laden in 1993, and then worked for him as a driver when Al-Qaeda was based in Sudan. He fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, fled the NATO invasion in 2001 and was later arrested in Pakistan and flown to Guantanamo Bay.
He was transferred to Libyan custody in 2007 and released a year later.