US President Barack Obama is bending over backwards to reverse the political tide against him and prove the pundits wrong in predicting Democratic losses leading to a Republican majority in the House and Senate in November’s midterm elections.
He is pinning his hopes on performing a second Osama bin Laden feat as a boost to his electoral fortunes.
DEBKA Weekly’s Washington and intelligence sources report exclusively that under a Presidential Directive signed secretly by Obama, Ahmed Abu Khattala, commander of the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia, is to be captured dead or alive in order to break up this ultra-violent militia.
If he pulls this off, the US President believes he will have killed two birds with one stone:
1. Eliminating the prime mover in Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2012 assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, who was responsible for the murders of the US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and his three CIA staffers.
2. Thwarting a new threat. The latest US intelligence points to a link-up between the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia, as posing Al Qaeda’s greatest threat to the US. American intelligence and counterterrorism agencies are particularly concerned by the ongoing dialogue between Abu Khattala and Ibrahim al-Asiri, Al Qaeda’s top smart-bomb expert.
Abu Khattala in plot to smuggle a smart bomb into America
Those agencies had hoped Asiri was killed in the US drone strike in Yemen on April 21, along with AQAP chief Nasir al-Wuhaysi. But on May 6, Saudi security sources came up with DNA test results, which proved that neither of the two high-profile operatives was among the victims of that attack. They are still very much at large and the CIA fears that Asiri and the Libyan master terrorist may be in cahoots for fabricating a sophisticated smart-bomb that is able to evade conventional airport security screening.
Such a bomb could be smuggled under the radar of US intelligence from Yemen to Benghazi. From there, the device could be easily secreted into Europe and put on a plane or ship bound for the United States.
Abu Khattala is believed to be in charge of getting the smart bomb from Libya to Europe.
According to the data so far discovered, Asiri’s smart bomb is not designed for large-scale carnage on the scale of the September 11, 2001 attacks in Washington and New York City. But it could kill and injure many hundreds of people if detonated in an American city center.
Running an intelligence leak to ground
For Obama, assassinating Abu Khattala would be a win-win.
Domestically, he would hope to silence the political fallout his administration has suffered over the Benghazi episode, and even prompt a shift in public opinion that he desperately needs.
The added benefit would be the thwarting of Asiri’s plot to smuggle a deadly explosive device into the US.
US teams are already deployed in Libya. Unconcerned by the president’s political math, they are waiting for their first chance to blow Abu Khattala away. This could happen at any time.
According to our sources, the teams have taken up position inside the triangle running between the large northern port city of Tabruk, down to the southern port of Dernah and across to the northeastern, heavily-forested, fertile Green Mountains.
Tabruk is located near the Libya-Egypt border. Its naval pier and international airport are controlled by Ansar al-Sharia and militias with ties to Al Qaeda.
The difficulty in the US plan is that Abu Khattala knows there is a price on his head and plans his movements with the utmost care. He managed to escape one attempt on his life, thanks to a tip-off, whose source US agents are trying to run to ground. They suspect Al Qaeda associates in Yemen but are not clear how they reached the confidential source of this top-secret intelligence.
Rabid anti-American, charged with leading Benghazi attack
DEBKA Weekly’s sources fingered Ansar al-Sharia as responsible for the deadly attack on the Benghazi consulate, at the behest of Al Qaeda, less than a week after it was perpetrated.
The following week, our sources named Ahmed Abu Khattala as head of the operation.
This radical Islamist had spent most of his adult life in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison, jailed by the government of Muammar Qaddafi for his Islamist views, before he was freed in the 2011 uprising against Qaddafi. He then formed a small militia, naming it Ubaidah ibn al-Jarra after an early Islamic general. His group later merged with the larger Ansar al-Sharia, which had split off from other militias in protest against their support for parliamentary elections in Libya.
Abu Khattala is fervently opposed to any American involvement in Libya. In interviews to the New York Times, he has advanced the view that “the enmity between the American government and the peoples of the world is an old case.”
Arguing that “God would have helped us” overthrow Qaddafi – even without NATO’s air campaign, he also charged the United States with “working both sides” for the purpose of “splitting up” Libya.
Eyewitnesses to the assault on the Benghazi diplomatic compound have identified Abu Khattala as leading the attack in person. On Aug. 6, 2013, US officials confirmed he had been charged with playing a prominent role in the incident. The sealed charges were filed in Washington in late July, 2013.