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Updated: 7 min 32 sec ago

No Al-Qaeda Link in Destruction of U.S. Compound In Benghazi, Libya

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 03:51

US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which was destroyed by people angry over the role of the United States inside the country. Demonstrations were held at the same time in Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.

'N.Y. Times' probe finds no al-Qaeda link to Benghazi raid

Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY 3:56 p.m. EST December 28, 2013

The report found that the deadly attack was fueled by anger over an anti-Islam U.S.-made video.

A lengthy New York Times investigation of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, found no involvement by al-Qaeda or other international terrorists groups and was accelerated in part by anger at a U.S.-made video denigrating Islam.

The attack left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The six-part report on the investigation is written by David D. Kirkpatrick and was posted Saturday on the Times' website. It centers on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who, the newspaper says, had direct knowledge of the attack and its context.

"The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs," the Times concludes.

The newspaper notes that Republicans have argued that the Obama administration was trying to cover up al-Qaeda's alleged role in the attack.

"It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an al-Qaeda-led event," Rep, Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month on Fox News.

"But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda's international terrorist network," the Times report says. "The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker's boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault."

READ: 'A Deadly Mix in Benghazi'

The newspaper says that a fuller account of the Benghazi attacks "suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya."

"It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment," the Times investigation says. "Both challenges now hang over the American involvement in Syria's civil conflict."

The Times says a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent local militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala. It says U.S. officials briefed on an American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect.

The report says Abu Khattala had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person CIA station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor local conditions.

Abu Khattala denied to the newspaper that he participated in the attack, but the newspaper says he was "firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias before and afterward."

The Times report on the attack itself says the U.S. compound had been under surveillance at least 12 hours before the assault started.

"The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements," the Times writes. "Anger at the (anti-Islam) video motivated the initial attack."

The video, titled "Innocence of Muslims" was made by an American, but had appeared almost exclusively only online, on YouTube. It had also prompted protests for hours the day before at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

"Dozens of people (in Benghazi) joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters," The Times writes. "Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras."

The Times says Abu Khattala, who still freely moves around the area, suggested that the video insulting the Prophet Mohammed might well have justified the killing of four Americans. "From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad," he told the newspaper.

Rockets Fired From Lebanon Into Israel

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 03:48

Lebanon National Resistance Day on May 25, 2013. The event is designed to commemorate the Israeli Defense Forces withdrawal from the south of the country in 2000., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.

Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel

AP 2:25 a.m. EST December 29, 2013
Breaking News

Lebanon's state news agency says Israeli tanks have shelled a Lebanese border
Israeli police said two rockets were fired from the area toward Israel before the shelling began
There were no reports of injuries on the Lebanese or Israeli side

JERUSALEM (AP) — Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli shelling reprisal in a rare flare-up between the two states.

Residents of the northern Israel town of Kiryat Shmona awoke to a pair of large explosions. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said no injuries or damage were caused from the rocket fire. Shortly after, the Israeli military said it responded with artillery fired toward the source of the launch.

Lebanon's state news agency said the border area was shelled after the rockets hit Israel. The agency said over 20 shells hit the mountainous region around the southern Lebanese border area of Rachaya.

The Israel-Lebanon border has remained mostly quiet since a monthlong war in the summer of 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. There have been sporadic outbursts of violence, most recently earlier this month when a Lebanese army sniper killed an Israeli soldier.

Lebanon is unusually jittery after a Friday car bombing in an upscale district of Beirut. On Sunday, Lebanese soldiers fanned out throughout the country, manning checkpoints and closing off sensitive roads.

Nonetheless, the Lebanese government is notoriously unable to control its own security. Hezbollah has its own large, well-trained militia that dominates the southern border. There are also small bands of Palestinian militants who claim responsibility for some isolated rocket attacks.

In the most serious incident, Lebanese forces killed a high-ranking Israeli officer in 2010 and Israel responded with artillery fire that killed three Lebanese. However, incidences of rocket fire have been infrequent since the countries agreed to a cease-fire that ended the 2006 war.

The 2006 war broke out after Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers. The ensuing monthlong conflict killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.

Israel and Lebanon have fought several wars before. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the stated intention of driving Palestinian guerrillas out of the south. The Israeli military battled halfway through the country into Beirut and occupied south Lebanon until 2000.

Given the years of enmity between the two countries, even the smallest incident raises the risk of sparking a wider conflagration.

Seven Killed As Iraqi Troops Arrest Sunni Lawmaker

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 03:42

Fires from bomb blasts in Iraq on November 29, 2012. The country is still embroiled in a major conflict over its future., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.

7 killed as Iraqi troops arrest Sunni lawmaker

By Associated Press, December 28

BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops on Saturday detained a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges and killed his brother and five of his guards after the six opened fire on the arresting officers. The incident, which is likely to add to sectarian tensions, also left an Iraqi soldier dead.

The arrested lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, has been prominent among the organizers of Sunni protests against Iraq’s Shiite-led government over the past year. He is wanted on terrorism charges for inciting violence against Shiites who came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.

As military and security forces arrived at his home at dawn Saturday in the western city of Ramadi, Alwani’s guards and tribesmen opened fire, prompting a shootout that lasted nearly an hour, a police officer said. A spokesman for Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, Sameer al-Showaili, told state TV that Alwani surrendered after he ran out of ammunition.

In addition to those killed on the scene, 12 guards and five soldiers were wounded in the shooting. Six other guards were arrested, the officer said. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures.

Alwani’s bloc in parliament, Iraqiya, demanded his release and denounced the arrest as politically motivated, saying it was intended to benefit the bloc’s rivals in next year’s national elections.

Sunni lawmaker Salman al-Jumaili, who heads the bloc in the parliament, also accused the Shiite-led government of “agitating sectarian tension regardless of the consequences on the future of the country.”

Since last December, Iraq’s Sunni minority has been staging protests against what it claims is second-class treatment at the hands of the Shiite majority — protests that have been coupled with a rising wave of insurgent attacks across the country.

Shots Fired Before Four U.S. Marines Were Held in Libya

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 03:38

Damage from a car bomb explosion at the Swedish embassy in Benghazi, Libya on October 11, 2013. There was an attempted coup earlier in the week., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.

December 28, 2013

Shots Fired Before 4 Were Held in Libya

New York Times

WASHINGTON — The detention of four American military personnel in Libya on Friday was preceded by a confrontation at a checkpoint in which gunshots were fired and a vehicle was damaged, a witness in Libya and an Obama administration official said on Saturday.

Details about the confrontation, which occurred about an hour’s drive west from Tripoli, remained unclear on Saturday. The four military personnel, assigned to the United States Embassy in Tripoli, were held for several hours and then released.

A spokesman for the United States Africa Command, which oversees military operations in Africa, declined to comment on accounts of the episode in Libya. But an administration official, who declined to be identified, acknowledged that Libyan forces had fired their weapons and that a vehicle driven by two of the Americans appeared to have been damaged.

The State Department said on Friday that the four Americans were stopped in western Libya near the historic Roman ruins at Sabratha. The department said they had been involved in “security preparedness efforts,” which other administration officials said involved canvassing potential evacuation routes. The road where they were stopped is not far from the main road to the Tunisian border.

In Libya, a witness said in an interview that a car with two Americans ran into a problem at a checkpoint between 8 and 9 p.m. on Friday.

According to the witness, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, the Americans were reluctant to stop because “they were afraid that it was a fake checkpoint” where they might be robbed or detained. Many checkpoints in Libya are controlled by local militias.

Another car with two other Americans proceeded past the checkpoint and was later stopped at a second checkpoint, the witness said.

An administration official disputed reports from Libya that the Americans had returned fire.

There were conflicting reports about the damage to one of the Americans’ vehicles. Some said that it was set on fire; others said it was disabled in some other way.

Administration officials said they were still gathering information about the episode. But the Obama administration’s reluctance to discuss it in detail also appeared to reflect sensitivities about the United States relationship with the Libyan authorities.

The confrontation was the latest brush with danger for Americans in Libya, where the security situation has deteriorated significantly since the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011.

This month, an American teacher was killed in the eastern city of Benghazi. On Sept. 11, 2012, the United States ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in attacks on American outposts in Benghazi. The violence has made it difficult for Americans to move freely throughout the country.

“The U.S. Embassy in Libya and U.S. Africa Command are reviewing this incident,” said the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John F. Kirby. “The details remain unclear,” he said, adding, “We are grateful our service members were returned promptly.”

Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.

Libya Holds Four American Military Personnel for Hours

Sun, 12/29/2013 - 03:32

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, visits the U.S. embassy compound in Tripoli, Libya, on June 16, 2013. He is speaking with a member of 4th Force Reconnaissance Company., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.

December 27, 2013

Libya Holds Four American Military Personnel for Hours


WASHINGTON — Four American military personnel assigned to the United States Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, were detained Friday and then released after being held for hours by the country’s Interior Ministry, American officials said.

The four were believed to have been reviewing potential evacuation routes for diplomats when they were detained, according to the initial reports received by officials in Washington. The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said they were working on “security preparedness efforts” when they were taken into custody. The area where they were said to have been detained is not far from the main road to the Tunisian border from Tripoli, the capital.

After running into a problem at a checkpoint — many of which are run by local militias — they were detained and later moved to the Ministry of the Interior, said administration officials who asked not to be identified because they were discussing internal reports.

Photographs of two American passports and embassy identity cards were later disseminated on Twitter. It was not known if the passports belonged to any of the four military personnel.

The buzzing sound of drones filled Tripoli’s sky for hours as rumors spread through the capital that four Americans were missing. Drones are not usually heard in Tripoli, although the sound is familiar in Benghazi.

The episode took place in a town just southwest of the historic Roman ruins at Sabratha and about an hour’s drive from Tripoli, Ms. Psaki said. The area is not known for anti-Western extremists or other obvious threats. In part because it is a tourist area, the district around Sabratha skews relatively liberal and friendly to Westerners.

Since the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens on Sept. 11, 2012, employees of the American Embassy have operated with extraordinary caution.

But two years after the toppling of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, security remains tenuous even in and around Tripoli. Libya’s transitional government has not yet managed to assemble a credible national army or police force. Many families or clans around the country keep heavy weapons, as do autonomous local militias formed during and after the Libyan uprising.

Rigorous security rules preclude any movements outside the heavily fortified embassy compound without advance planning and an armed guard. The compound is locked at night, and no one is permitted to enter or exit.

Counterterrorism has become a central focus of the work there, and the compound brims with well-armed security officers.

The area where the Americans were said to have been detained is controlled mainly by local tribes, not the central government, which is relatively weak even in its own capital. And in the Libyan context, it is easy to imagine that a foreigner with a diplomatic passport and a gun who was stopped at a checkpoint would be presumed to be a spy and therefore detained.

The brief detention of the Americans is an experience they share with Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. He was kidnapped from his room in a luxury hotel a few weeks ago, but then released hours later.

In the absence of a strong central government, Libyans have demonstrated both a propensity to use the threat of force to try to settle disputes but also a knack for working through networks of neighbors and clans to try to avoid such standoffs.

Michael R. Gordon reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Buffalo. Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya, and Thom Shanker from Washington.

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