The details of the September 11 attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi are still murky and there’s certainly more to be known.
Former CIA officer Clare Lopez argues that the key issue is “the relationship of the U.S. government, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya with Al Qaeda.”
That relationship, Lopez argues, could be connected to the rise of Islamic brigades in Syria, who recently created a “Front to Liberate Syria” to wage jihad against the Syrian regime and turn the country into an Islamic state.
That potential connection starts with who Ambassador Stevens worked with during the Libyan revolution and ends with who he hosted on the night of his death.
The top military commander of the rebels, Abdelhakim Belhadj, was the leader of the pro-al-Qaeda Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
After Gaddafi fell the LIFG disbanded and some of the fighters joined the amorphous group Ansar al-Shariah (Soldiers of Shariah), which reportedly participated in the attack that took Stevens’ life.
In November 2011 The Telegraph reported that Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria.
Last month The Times of London reported the a Libyan ship “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
Those heavy weapons are most likely from Muammar Gaddafi’s stock of about 20,000 portable heat-seeking missiles—the bulk of them SA-7s—that the Libyan leader obtained from the former Eastern bloc.
Reuters reports that Syrian rebels have been using those heavy weapons to shoot down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets.
The ship’s captain was “a Libyan from Benghazi and the head of an organization called the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support,” which was presumably established by the new government.
That means that Ambassador Stevens had only one person—Belhadj—between himself and the Benghazi man who brought heavy weapons to Syria. (The official U.S. stance is that it is opposed to providing Syrian rebels with heavy weapons.)
Furthermore, we know that jihadists are the best fighters in the Syrian opposition, but where did they come from?
Last week The Telegraph reported that a FSA commander called them “Libyans” when he explained that the FSA doesn’t “want these extremist people here.”
So this much is fairly certain: Libya has been sending seasoned Islamic fighters, heavy weapons and presumably money to Syria in support of the opposition.
The uncertain part is where Stevens, and the U.S. government, fits into all of this.
If the new Libyan government was sending jihadists and 400 tons of lethal cargo to Syria through a port in southern Turkey—a deal brokered by Stevens’ primary Libyan contact during the Libyan revolution—then the governments of Turkey and the U.S. surely knew about it.
Reuters reported that satellite photos exposed a CIA post in Benghazi, located 1.2 miles from the U.S. consulate, was used as “a base for, among other things, collecting information on the proliferation of weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, including surface-to-air missiles” … and that its security features “were more advanced than those at rented villa where Stevens died.”
We also know that about a dozen CIA operatives and contractors left the Benghazi base after it was exposed. Could these two CIA groups be connected as start and end points to help funnel heavy weapons to the Syrian opposition?
We know that the CIA has been funneling weapons to the rebels in southern Turkey, but CNN reports that FSA members are “cutting their own deals to get weapons” from well-armed extremists so it raises questions about who the CIA is arming.
We know that U.S. weapons are ending up in the hands of hard-line Islamists in Syria. It turns out that many of these jihadists are the same ones that Stevens helped arm to topple Gaddafi.
On September 11 Stevens held an evening meeting with a Turkish diplomat before retiring to his room at 9 p.m. Gunfire and explosions began 40 minutes later. Is Steven’s guest for his last meeting just another eerie coincidence?
Either way it seems that the connection between Benghazi and the rise of jihadists in Syria is much stronger than has been officially acknowledged.