Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattallah, seized by the U.S. on Sunday, once served as a key conduit in an effort staged by the U.S. and Arab interests to aid insurgents fighting in Libya and later in Syria, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
It was not immediately clear whether Khattallah himself worked directly with the Americans or if he knew he was part of an effort that involved the U.S..
He did, however, receive funds for his participation in a nexus coordinated by the U.S., Saudis, Turkey and other Arab countries to recruit the fighters that ultimately toppled Muammar Gadhafi’s regime, the security officials said.
Khattallah, the senior leader of the Benghazi branch of the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist organization, was later instrumental in helping to recruit fighters from inside Libya to travel to Syria to aid in the insurgency targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2011, the officials said.
Khattallah’s participation came to a grinding halt following the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks in which he is accused of participating.
Ansar al-Sharia was not yet declared a terrorist organization by the State Department during the period of Khatallah’s alleged work to help recruit Mideast rebels.
Prior to the Benghazi attacks, the U.S. relationship with those linked to Khattalah’s group was so comfortable that it was the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, an Ansar al-Sharia offshoot, that officially served as the armed quick reaction force within the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi.
In August 2013, almost one year after the assault, the U.S. filed the first criminal charges in the Benghazi attack against Khatallah, who was placed by witnesses at the scene during the initial assault on the U.S. Special Mission.
Khatallah’s al-Qaida-linked Ansar al-Sharia group advocates strict Shariah implementation and the creation of the Islamic Caliphate. The group infamously first took credit for the attack in social media while later claiming it “didn’t participate [in the attack] as a sole entity.” Witnesses told the media that not only did they see Ansar al-Sharia men laying siege to the compound, they also spotted vehicles brandishing Ansar al-Sharia’s logo at the scene.
Twelve days after Benghazi attacks, KleinOnline first reported on information from Middle Eastern security sources indicating both the U.S. mission and the nearby CIA annex in Benghazi served as a planning center for U.S. aid to rebels in the Middle East, with particular emphasis on shipping weapons to jihadists fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
Egyptian and other Middle Eastern sources said that just after the attacks that Ambassador Chris Stevens himself played a central role in recruiting and vetting jihadists and coordinating arms shipments to the gunmen fighting Assad’s regime in Syria.
Stevens’ original role in Libya was to serve as the main interlocutor between the Obama administration and the rebels based in Benghazi.
The news media churned out numerous reports of U.S.-coordinated arms being funneled to the anti-Gadhafi rebels starting at about the time Stevens arrived in Libya.
In December 2012, the New York Times reported the Obama administration “secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year.”
The article went on to say that the weapons and money from Qatar “strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Gadhafi government.” The weapons came from Qatar and not the United States, according to the Times.
In March 2011, Reuters exclusively reported Obama had signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for the rebel forces in Libya seeking to oust Gadhafi, quoting U.S. government officials.
Also that month, the U.K.-based Independent reported that “the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi.”
The Times reported on March 25, 2013, that after the fall of Gadhafi, the U.S. began to coordinate aid, including weapons shipments, to the Syrian rebels in early 2012.
The Times reported in its March 2013 article the weapons airlifts to Syria began on a small scale and continued intermittently through the fall of 2012, expanding into a steady and much heavier flow later that year.
From offices at “secret locations,” American intelligence officers “helped the Arab governments shop for weapons … and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive,” according to the report.
The CIA declined to comment to the Times on the shipments to Syria or its role in them.