U.S. officials suspect that a former Guantanamo Bay detainee played a role in the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and are planning to designate the group he leads as a foreign terrorist organization, according to officials familiar with the plans.
Militiamen under the command of Abu Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in the Libyan city of Darnah, participated in the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, U.S. officials said.
Witnesses have told American officials that Qumu’s men were in Benghazi before the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, according to the officials. It’s unclear whether they were there as part of a planned attack or out of happenstance. The drive from Darnah to Benghazi takes several hours.
The State Department is expected to tie Qumu’s group to the Benghazi attack when it designates three branches of Ansar al-Sharia, in Darnah, Benghazi and Tunisia, as foreign terrorist organizations in the coming days.
In 2007, Qumu was released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and sent to Libya, where he was detained. The Libyan government released him in 2008.
U.S. officials are also investigating whether any of the people involved in the Benghazi raid had a role in the killing of Ronnie Smith, an American schoolteacher who was gunned down while jogging in the city last month.
Lawless conditions in eastern Libya have frustrated U.S. efforts to investigate the attack in Benghazi and capture those responsible. U.S. officials scrapped a plan to snatch Khattala in Benghazi for fear that American action could trigger unrest and destabilize the Libyan government.
Khattala, meanwhile, has flaunted his freedom, giving interviews to U.S. reporters as the FBI watches from afar. He has denied any involvement in the attack.
No escaping Libya new today.