The Obama administration’s reluctance to classify the murder of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other diplomats in Benghazi on Sept. 11 as “an act of terror” served the president’s Republican rivals as useful fodder this week on the election campaign trail.
By week’s end, the administration had admitted that those deaths were unrelated to the anti-Islam video made in California, which sparked violent anti-US demonstrations across the world. Talking to NBC News Wednesday, Sept. 26, Libyan President Mohamed Magarief pegged them to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America. Even Barack Obama admitted Tuesday in his UN speech that the assassinations were not “just mob action.”
It was not until Thursday, Sept. 27, that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally uttered words explicitly linking the murders of the five US diplomats to “the Qaeda franchise in North Africa.”
However, the facts gathered exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism researchers have led to a hitherto unmentioned conclusion: Ambassador Stevens’s murder was the work of the jihadist terrorist Abdelmalek Droukdel, “Emir of Al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb” (AQIM), in reprisal for a US-led plan to have him assassinated.
More terrorist attacks anticipated – somewhere, some time
The information we have collected is not yet complete. It lacks complete details of the partners in the plan to get rid of the AQIM leader – or even which US undercover agencies were responsible for the operation.
At the same time, we pieced together enough data to identify at least three collaborators – the Libyan, Algerian and Tunisian secret services.
They, like the Americans, are fully aware that they are in for more retribution at the hands of Droukdel.
The odds for success are weighted heavily in favor of the master terrorist.
He partially controls the Libyan weapons smuggling networks and the extremist Islamic militias teeming in North and West Africa. He has also successfully planted agents in Libyan and Algerian intelligence. These covert penetrations have brought much of the counterterrorism work of the CIA and other American in North Africa into disarray.
Counter-terror strategists are therefore waiting for the next terrorist hammer blow to fall somewhere, sometime, without knowing what to expect.
As a precaution, most US diplomatic and other personnel have been evacuated with their families from the three North African countries engaged in the war on terror. The few officers staying behind are locked in behind embassy doors or barricaded in heavily fortified safe houses.
The AQIM chief got wind of assassination plan against him
It is now evident that Droukedel got wind of the operation to assassinate him and suspected the Americans of being behind it. He most likely used his working ties with the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah leader Muhammad Zahawi to get close enough to kill the US ambassador whom he believed was in charge of that operation.
No one linked AQIM’s chief to the Benghazi murders until Sept. 15, five days after the event, when the Algerian security services detained three Ansar al-Shariah members near the Algerian-Niger border.
Exhaustive grilling of the three brought to light the fact that their detention had forced the organizers to call off a conference of Droukel’s representatives with leaders of the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah and Ansar Eddine, and Salafi group chiefs, which had been convened to coordinate the launching of a broad terror campaign.
Also invited to the conference were the Nigerian Boko Haram and the West African Monotheism and Jihad.
This gathering of armed Islamist groups was preparing to discuss expanding their joint operations, including the smuggling of arms, money and jihadists, using the impetus provided by their Benghazi “success.”
Some months ago, Algerian intelligence intercepted an exchange of e-mails between Droukdel and leaders of certain Libyan armed groups, which showed AQIM and some Libyan jihadist militias were collaborating.
As recently as June, Gen. Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, warned that al Qaeda and Libyan militias were becoming very dangerous.
In a speech to senior African, European and US officials, Ham, who worked closely with the late ambassador, spoke of “worrying indicators that al Qaeda and others are seeking to establish a presence in Libya.”
Decapitating AQIM at conference would have rivaled Bin Laden’s death
Our sources find it hard to believe therefore that AQIM and Ansar al-Shariah were not bracketed by anyone in the entire US counterterrorism system in North Africa – from the CIA to the US military's Special Forces Operation Command.
It is entirely credible that Ambassador Stevens, who coordinated undercover work on Libyan arms smuggling to Al Qaeda, came across those ties in person and put them to good use.
Algerian intelligence and counterterrorism sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that they did not doubt Chris Stevens knew that AQIM and the heads of Libyan and other African militias were planning a conference.
His tip may well have come from a contact he developed in the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah.
The late ambassador would certainly have been involved in any preparations for a US drone or special ops raid on that conference, which would have offered a rare opportunity to wipe out the entire AQIM leadership and associated militias.
This success would have gone down as a huge US achievement in the war on terror, comparable to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011 and Anwar al-Awlaki of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) in September of the same year.
Decapitating Al Qaeda’s most sinister African franchise would have given President Obama the chance to demonstrate to the American people that killing bin Laden was not a one-off and that he remained steadfast in his war on al Qaeda.
An agent’s treachery in Afghanistan three years ago cost six CIA lives
But in Benghazi, al Qaeda seems to have tragically turned the tables.
Our counterterrorism experts recall the three-year old case of the Jordanian physician Dr. Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a triple CIA-Jordanian-Al Qaeda agent who, on Dec. 30, 2009, turned treacherously on his American handlers in Camp Chapman, Afghanistan.
Although he had been previously employed on the Al-Hesbah forum, a former Al Qaeda chat room, he was able to worm himself into the favors of Jordanian and American intelligence by convincing them he had mended his ways.
To use the knowledge and connections he acquired in his previous career, they sent Dr. al-Balawi to Afghanistan and Pakistan with instructions to work his way into al Qaeda and up through the ranks. His mission was to get close to the organization’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a fellow physician, and kill him.
For an entire year, the Jordanian doctor fooled Jordanian and U.S. intelligence services, never putting a foot wrong and building up their trust.
He only showed his true colors when it was too late.
In the last week of December 2009, he contacted his Jordanian handler Sharif Ali bin Zeid and asked for a meeting with the CIA at their secret camp in Khost to deliver urgent information about Zawahiri.
As a trusted team member, al-Balawi was admitted to the Camp Chapman facility without being searched. He thereupon detonated his bomb vest while greeting the team.
He killed himself, Bin Zeid and six CIA officers on the spot.
Stevens may have been the victim of an agent turned traitor
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources, the investigation into Ambassador Stevens’ murder focuses on the assumption that he too was the victim of a double agent he trusted.
It is suspected that he was personally acquainted with some of the attackers, whom he may have recruited for a clandestine Libyan team to penetrate AQIM.
It is even possible that in his last moments, when he recognized his murderers, he tried to negotiate with them one last time to keep faith with the United States – to no avail.