Spin doctors in the United States are finding it hard to explain the September 11 strike in Benghazi that killed Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. Nobody, including powerful lobbyists, politicians, public relations gurus, mainstream media, has managed to present a credible and logically consistent account of the tragedy. The fog engulfing the assassination is rising from the campaign for the U.S. presidential elections scheduled on November 6. In the heat of an electoral battle where princely sums are paid to create perceptions rather than establishing facts, neither the Republican camp of Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama’s legions seem interested in confronting the truth till such time as the votes have been cast and the last ballot box has been sealed.
The debate ahead of the elections is not just about who killed the ambassador, and how, but also the context. The Republicans, who may be in striking distance of the presidency, argue that he was a victim of a planned al-Qaeda attack. The killing was, therefore, a result of either a huge intelligence failure or unforgivable administrative laxity which prevented the authorities from responding to the red flags raised about the possibility of a strike in Benghazi or elsewhere.
Mr. Obama has acknowledged that Ambassador Stevens was the victim of an “act of terror”. There have been several articles in the mainstream media that quote unnamed intelligence officials as saying that the assailants, who attacked the cluster of villas occupied by the ambassador and his staff, mounted an “opportunistic” attack, taking advantage of the protests that had been organised in Benghazi against the tasteless b-grade video film that was disrespectful of Prophet Muhammad. The theory of an “opportunistic” attack is far less damaging to the current administration. It spares President Obama and his team culpability in inaction, because it shows that the attack was not pre-planned, was difficult to predict and, therefore, harder to prevent.
Neither of the two narratives offered to the American electorate may, however, pass careful scrutiny. The Republicans’ assertion that the al-Qaeda masterminded the strike cannot be accepted at face value. Copious reams of material are available which show that jihadist groups with strong al-Qaeda ideological connections were, with American and NATO support, at the forefront of the military campaign that toppled Muammar Qadhafi, the former Libyan leader. Ambassador Stevens, who had famously arrived in Benghazi in April 2011 aboard a Greek cargo ship, became the lynchpin coordinating the administration’s ties with the armed Islamist groups.
The ambassador’s bonding with the Islamist fighters was well known. He shifted base from a Tripoli hotel after he escaped an assassination attempt outside its premises to the more secure villas of Benghazi, the hotbed of jihadists. So confident was he about his security that he enjoyed jogging on the streets of Benghazi teeming with jihadi groups — many with well-established connections to the Afghan Mujahideen and the al-Qaeda.
The opportunistic attack scenario, painted by Mr. Obama’s supporters, in which the assailants weaved their way into an ongoing protest against the blasphemous film and struck when the opportunity arose, appears equally flawed. It assumes that a protest was under way outside the gated villas in Benghazi, which presented the attackers a smoke-screen to infiltrate. However, eyewitness accounts suggest that there was no assemblage of protesters outside the villas on the fateful evening of September 11.
McClatchy news service quotes an eyewitness interviewed on September 13 as saying: “The Americans would have left if there had been protesters but there wasn’t a single ant. The area was totally quiet until about 9.35 pm, when as many as 125 men attacked with machine guns, grenades, RPGs, and anti-aircraft weapons. They threw grenades into the villas, wounding me and knocking me down. Then, they stormed through the facility’s main gate, moving from villa to villa.”
In an article published on the website globalresearch.ca, researchers Mark Robertson and Finian Cunningham identify the eyewitness as a 27-year-old who was one among the eight Libyans involved in protecting the villas used by ambassador Stevens and his staff. He suffered five shrapnel wounds in a leg and two bullet wounds in the other during the course of fighting. If the account is true, the “opportunistic attack” theory collapses as the assailants did not have the crowds to infiltrate and mount an assault.
Obsessed with the projection that a free and democratic Libya is emerging from 40 years of “tyranny” of the Qadhafi-era, it appears that no one in the U.S. establishment and NATO is inclined to speak the truth — that a green resistance movement of pro-Qadhafi loyalists, systematically targeting the former leader’s chief adversaries, has been mushrooming in Libya. The killing of the ambassador was only the latest act that capped an aggressive and effective campaign of the movement called “Tahloob” in local parlance. Not headlined by the mainstream media, the Tahloob has carried out a string of attacks including assassinations, chiefly of those who betrayed Qadhafi in his last days.
Its victims include Shukri Ghanem, a one-time celebrated Oil Minister, whose lifeless body was found floating on the Danube on April 29. In a classic betrayal, Ghanem had switched sides, joined NATO, and began living the good life, first in London and later in Vienna. Less than a month after Ghanem’s death, the movement claimed responsibility for killing General Albarrani Shkal. The former military governor of Tripoli had been accused of demobilising 38,000 men under his command. His act opened the floodgates for the entry of foreign troops into Tripoli, resulting in the “success” of Operation Mermaid Dawn, crowned by the unceremonious sacking of the Libyan capital. Another celebrated defector, Special Forces commander Abdel-Fattah Younis was also killed as was the judge investigating Younis’ assassination, in June this year.
The killing of Ambassador Stevens marked a sharp escalation in the green movement’s campaign. The motive was obvious, given Washington role and the critical contribution of the ambassador in toppling Qadhafi.
There were other factors that might have impacted the timing of the attack. Six days before the Benghazi attack, Mauritania had extradited to Libya Abdullah Al Senoussi, Qadhafi’s high-profile intelligence chief. This infuriated the resurgent Tahloob. Senoussi had made the ill-fated choice of seeking refuge in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, where he was promptly arrested upon arrival on March 17. At the time of his arrest, Mauritania was firmly in the lap of the western camp.
While the green movement has not claimed responsibility, it will be surprising if it is not on the list of those suspected to be involved in the attempt to assassinate Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on October 13. For public consumption, the al-Qaeda is being blamed for the attack although the official version states that the President was lightly injured in a “friendly fire” incident involving his own troops.
There was another reason that could have hastened the green movement’s decision to target Stevens. A day before the Benghazi attack, two Qadhafi loyalists — Abdul Ati Al Obeidi, a former Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Head of State, and Mohammed Zwai, former head of the legislature — were put on trial. Both were accused of squandering public funds by paying compensation to the tune of $2.7 billion to the families of the victims of the attack on the Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
In the aftermath of Ambassador Stevens’ death, a new chapter of bitter conflict seems to have opened up between Qadhafi loyalists of the green resistance and the NATO backed militias which have assumed power in an increasingly fractured Libyan state. Bani Walid, the city loyal to Qadhafi, which was the last to fall last year, has been attacked and the people of the Warfala tribe, loyal to Qadhafi, who reside in strength in the city, are being subjected to collective punishment. Rumours are swirling that Khamis, Qadhafi’s youngest son, has been killed and Moussa Ibrahim, Qadhafi’s one-time spokesman, captured. The resistance offered by Bani Walid under the leadership of the green movement illustrates that whoever occupies the White House next year is unlikely to escape the blowback from Libya, where many reject the regime change engineered under the generic deception called the Arab Spring.