Al-Qaeda in Libya: Assassination in Benghazi

By Morgan Norval l October 1, 2012
U.S. Consulate Benghazi September 11th                         U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens killed in Benghazi
Photo: STR/AFP Getty Images                                           Source: The Nation

The assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans can be analyzed thus: 1) Obama’s intervention in Libya has blown up in the face of its advocates; 2) the Arab Spring has not, nor will it, transform the area into political entities based on American concepts of democracy; and, 3) the U.S. intervention in Libya has given the Islamist terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, a golden opportunity to expand its activities throughout North Africa and beyond.

The first two points clearly highlight “the chickens coming home to roost” facet of the folly of those administration officials – Samantha Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton – advocating intervention in Libya and in selected countries. Edward Klein, author of the Amateur, writes, “When it came to foreign affairs, no one had a more profound influence on Barack Obama’s thinking than Samantha Power, who burst upon the foreign policy scene in 2003 with the publication of her book, A Problem from Hell, which indicted America and other democracies for being ‘bystanders to genocide.’”

The interventionist crowd—conservatives as well as liberals—feel that when the West overthrows regimes such as Gaddafi, and, in their view, Syria’s Assad, the hoped for democratic process would install a pro-Western regime modeled on the West’s democratic ideals.

Well, they had “free and fair elections” in Libya and on the 11th anniversary of 9-11 our Ambassador and three other Americans were brutally murdered in a raid on the largely undefended U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in eastern Libya. The timing of the attack, the weapons used, and tactics employed, demonstrated a professionalism not possessed by an unruly mob allegedly enraged over a video trailer offending Muslim sensibilities. In short, it was a well planned and executed attack conducted by hardcore terrorists. The “enraged crowd” thesis was the reaction by the Obama Administration for days until they finally had to admit that it was a terrorist attack. The bloody hand of al-Qaeda can be detected here.

There were prior attacks in the region that should have warned the Obama Administration that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi would become a likely terror target. The Tunisian Consulate was earlier attacked and overrun by terrorists and the British ambassador’s convoy was attacked by RPG wielders in Benghazi. Libyan officials claim they gave a three day’s warning to the U.S. of probable violent unrest in Benghazi. The U.S. State Department issued an alert about 48 hours before the attack but the alert was not made public. After the attack, however, the State Department claimed: “We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.” Nobody in the Obama Administration apparently bothered to connect the dots.

The Obama Administration’s initial reaction demonstrated a lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in Benghazi. The city is a hot bed of violent Islamic fundamentalism. The city was also a center of opposition to Gaddafi and they had strong ties to al-Qaeda. A study of captured personnel records in Iraq by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point reveals al-Qaeda ties to terrorists from Libya who joined them in Iraq. The study looked at foreign terrorists who joined al-Qaeda in Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. It found that Libya produced “far more” foreign terrorists per capita than any other jihadi-exporting country. Not only that, but Benghazi was well represented in the terrorist recruits journeying to Iraq. Benghazi was also the center of the rebellion against Gaddafi. Benghazi has a history of associating with al-Qaeda and those Iraq battle-tested recruits who returned home to Libya after their terror war in Iraq were well seasoned terrorists qualified and capable of planning and carrying out the September 11, 2012 assassination of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, who made the ultimate sacrifice. In light of recent events, a new Center report addressing the “Emerging Signs of Jihadist Sentiment in Libya” is available.

Their task was made easier by the Obama Administration’s ignoring the Benghazi –al-Qaeda connection and failing to provide adequate security for the consulate. They were also oblivious to the possibility of a terrorist attack to coincide with the anniversary of 9-11. No wonder the Obama Administration attempted to fob off the “enraged mob” thesis to cover up their shoddy handling of the situation in Libya.

The so-called Arab Spring, launched by the riots of the Arab Street, was supposed to lead to democracy and improved relations with the U.S. But the Arab Street is overwhelmingly anti-American and when our interventionists intervene to get rid of existing governments and replace them with ones chosen by “free and fair election,” it is assumed the new government would be modeled on Western ideals. It hasn’t turned out that way, nor should it have been expected. Strafor’s founder George Friedman recently pointed out such a result was highly unlikely to occur: “What emerged in Libya,” he wrote in a Stratfor report, “is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows existing governments, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos.” The failure to impose Western style democracy in Iraq and our ongoing attempts to do so in Afghanistan should provide clear examples of the futility of nation building on a non-Western country.

“Instability and chaos” is a perfect petri dish environment tailor made for al-Qaeda to exploit and grow and flourish like malignant bacteria. The assassinations in Libya demonstrate this all too well. The recent killings in Libya are likely the first terrorist act staged by al-Qaeda operating out of eastern Libya. Others are, no doubt, in the planning stage.

Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.