Ambassador Stevens’ Undercover Mission in Benghazi’s Roaring Arms Bazaar
In the second article of this two-part series, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources will shed more light on the still unanswered questions hanging over the circumstances of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 and the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his aides.
This study is vital because the missing answers continue to spread harm – not only as a bone of contention in US domestic politics – but to the detriment of the present and future war on terrorism.
The first article in this issue uncovered the untold story of the symbiotic relations established by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood with a variety of Islamist terrorist groups – Sunni and Shiite alike.
This second article uncovers two of the unrevealed and most intriguing aspects of the Benghazi episode: The complicity of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s clandestine branches in the deadly attack on the US consulate; and the proposition that Ambassador Stevens knew his killers.
So what were the undercover duties of Ambassador Stevens and the roughly 20 Central Intelligence Agency agents at his disposal?
That is the second untold story.
According to our sources, the ambassador’s primary mission was to buy up and gain control of the thousands of tons of weapons left in Libya after Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster and death. The weapons stocks – and especially the tens of thousands of missiles, including anti-air and anti-tank ground-to-ground missiles – were to be channeled in the following ways:
They had to be kept well away from terrorists, especially Al Qaeda.
- Some would be handed to heads of certain Libyan militias to gain their sympathy for US interests in the country.
- Another part would be sold to fund US intelligence operations in Libya and North Africa at large.
Stevens and his team worked in a roaring arms bazaar
The US consulate in Benghazi and “the Annex” – 800 meters away, where the CIA agents conducted their dealings with Libyan militia chiefs, were also selected as the venues for these secret arms transactions.
An international weapons bazaar had sprung up in the east Libyan hub, buzzing with buyers from diverse Middle East militias, terrorist organizations and even governments.
Members of Al Qaeda affiliates – as well as Hizballah and Hamas – were to be found haggling over purchases. So too were big purchasing delegations sent over by Qatari intelligence and Iran’s armed forces, as well as shady figures from the big smuggling rings, and Gulf Arabs representing Muslim Brotherhood and other interests.
The American agents faced plenty of company and competition.
Since they were murdered on September 11, 2012, little has changed in Benghazi, where to perform their mission Stevens and his team had to swim through a milieu swarming with world arms traders.
Their job was to gain maximum US control over the Qaddafi arsenal and the clout for determining what quantities reached which hands. They also needed intelligence on the identities of the agents forking out large wads of cash and the real destinations of their purchases.
To this end, the CIA team had to develop contacts with a wide range of purchasing agents in Benghazi, regardless of whether their business was licit or illicit.
And this is what the Stevens team did – and it brought them into shark-infested waters.
The CIA team did know their killers
His mode of operation provided DEBKA Weekly 558 of Sept. 28, 2012 with the caption: Ambassador Chris Stevens Knew His Killers.
The agents working under him met often with members of the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia which eventually staged the fatal attack on the Benghazi consulate. The Americans were well aware of Ansar’s nefarious associations and the multi-branched arms traffic in which it was involved. They knew that –
- Ansar al-Sharia was close to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
- It maintained operational ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s underground networks and commander, Mahmud Izzat Ibrahim, who is now running a campaign of terror against the Egyptian army from the Gaza Strip (as reported in the first article in this series).
- There is no confirmation that Stevens ever met in person Ansar’s leader Abu Kattala, who commanded the attack on the US Consulate and the “Annex.” But there must have been some sort of contact between the CIA team and Kattala – indirect at least – because he was the prime mover in the Benghazi arms market at the time.
- By mid-2012, Stevens and team had discovered that not all the arms they had directed to other Libyan militias had actually reached the right addresses. By then, well-guarded truck convoys were making their way through Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula. Some reached the Bedouin Salafists belonging to the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a branch of al Qaeda. Another part was moved into the Gaza Strip for the use of the Palestinian Hamas and the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami – and not just for them.
The Brotherhood waved the arms convoys through to Sinai and Gaza
- It was obvious to the CIA team that the heavily-laden arms convoys could never have crossed the Libyan border, traveled 1,000 kilometers inside Egypt and passed through the Suez Canal into Sinai without the connivance of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rulers and President Mohamed Morsi.
The trucks were not just carrying boxes of bullets and disassembled machine guns, but heavy multiple missile launcher systems that were unmistakable even under tarpaulin covers.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources, a good portion of these systems are still stowed away in emergency storehouses under the eye of the Gaza-based Muslim Brotherhood commander, Izzat Ibrahim.
This load of smuggled Libyan weapons was destined in the first place to serve as a reserve arsenal for a new, independent Islamist militia, which would stand ready in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip for the fight to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in power. MB leaders realized early on that they could not count on the Egyptian army commanders.
It was also obvious to all parties involved in the Libyan arms traffic that some of the weapons would spill over into the hands of Al Qaeda’s associates in Sinai and the Egyptian mainland.
Two figures embodied the tie-in of Egyptian radicals and networks with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
Leads from Benghazi to “ultra-radicals” in Cairo
The first is Muhammad Gemal Abu Ahmad, founder of the Gemal Network, which is known to have ties to al Qaeda and took part in the Benghazi attack.
Abu Ahmad, raised in the poor and crowded Cairo suburb of Shoubra, joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad as a young man. He trained with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and Sudan in the 1990s. He returned to Cairo in 2002 only to be thrown into jail for the next nine years.
The Wall Street Journal reported the suspicions that Abu Ahmad was involved in the Sept 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, using manpower trained at camps he established in the Libyan Desert. He is described b his jihadist friends as an “ultra-radical” and “one of the most potent of the new militant operatives emerging from the Arab Spring” – although not the only one.
He broke out of jail after the fall of the Mubarak regime, and gained financing from the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for his new Gemal Network. Abu Ahmad has since petitioned Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to establish a new affiliate to be called “Al Qaeda in Egypt.”
The second character is a Libyan called Karim el-Azizi, apparently a member of the Gemal Network. When he entered Egypt from Libya in October 2013, Egyptian security forces tried to arrest him as a suspect in the Benghazi attack. There was a clash and he was later found dead in his hideout.
Obama has never come clean on the MB role in Benghazi
Both these characters operated out of Egypt during and after the “Arab Spring.” But who were their backers and protectors? And how were they recruited for the US consulate attack in Benghazi?
Another pressing question still unanswered is why, after the attack, did the ruling Muslim Brotherhood protect its perpetrators?
The answers to these questions will no doubt shed light on the Obama administration’s motives for keeping the true story of the Benghazi tragedy dark and, most of all, the Egyptian connection.