Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ansar al-Shariah in Libya

“We’re Muslims, good and faithful Muslims,” said one young Malian to HRW. “But honestly, these people have taken all the joie de vivre from our lives.”

Re: Ansar al-Shariah ; Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO.; al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

Ansar al-Sharia (Libya) (English: Partisans of Islamic Law) is an Islamist militia group advocating the implementation of strict Sharia law across Libya. It was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State on October 4, 2012.

Ansar al-Sharia was formed during the Libyan civil war and rose to prominence after the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Made up of former rebels from the Abu Obayda Bin Aljarah Brigade, Malik Brigade and February 17 Brigade and many more, the Salafist militia initially made their name by posting videos of themselves fighting in the Battle of Sirte.Their first major public appearance occurred on 7 June 2012, when they led a rally of armed vehicles along Benghazi’s Tahrir Square and demanded the imposition of Sharia from which they were later the same day chased out by local residents.Its leader, Sheikh Muhammad al-Zawawi, later gave an interview on a local TV station forbidding participation in the July 7 GNC elections on the grounds that they were un-Islamic.The militia went on to provide security to some public property in eastern Libya, including Benghazi's Al Jala Hospital.The group is reportedly the military arm of a charitable organization named Al-Dawa wa Al-Islah.

Noman Benotman, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and analyst of Libyan Islamism claims that Ansar al Sharia is less an organisation than a term applied to an amorphous coalition of Islamist and Salafist groups active in eastern Libya. CNN reports that Ansar al Sharia is more a label than an organization, one that's been adopted by conservative Salafist groups across the Arab world. The name means, simply, "Partisans of Islamic Law." Their logo is a pair of AK-47s, a clenched fist, and an open Koran.

Fawzi Bukatef, the leader in Benghazi of the rival Islamist militia February 17 Brigade, claimed that members of the organisation had been responsible for the assassination ofAbdul Fatah Younis, the commander of rebel forces during the Libyan civil war.
Ansar al-Sharia carried out destruction of Sufi shrines in Benghazi, which they regarded as idolatrous. In In November 2011, Libyan Salafis engaged in a series of attacks on Sufi shrines all over the country. “On August 25 Ansar al-Sharia even deployed an excavator to destroy the Sidi Al-Sha’ab Mosque (which contained the tomb of a Sufi saint) in the center of Tripoli…”Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, the president of the General National Congress (GNC) denounced the shrine attacks as “disgraceful acts,” and said “those involved were criminals who would be pursued.”

2012 U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi

On September 11, 2012, the United States Department of State Operations Center advised the White House Situation Room and other U.S. security units that Ansar al-Sharia was claiming responsibility for the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that had just occurred.Witnesses said they saw vehicles with the group's logo at the scene of the assault and that fighters there acknowledged at the time that they belonged to Ansar al-Sharia. Witnesses also said they saw Ahmed Abu Khattala, a commander of Ansar al-Sharia, leading the embassy attack, a claim Mr. Khattala denied. According to, the group issued a statement asserting that it "didn't participate as a sole entity," and that the attack "was a spontaneous popular uprising" to an anti-Islam film.

On 21 September 2012, after massive anti-militia protests in Benghazi which largely blamed Ansar al-Sharia for the attack, hundreds of protesters stormed the militia headquarters, pulled down flags of the militia and torched a vehicle inside the base.Afterwards, crowds swelled to several thousand strong and breached into Ansar al-Sharia military base where militants retreated before the civilians got to the base and led a pro ansar sharia peaceful protest. Another compound was taken later that night.  

Elements of Libyan National Army and Libyan police came to the support of the civilians the rioters later took over control of the bases of different brigades such as Martyrs of 17th February and The first Libyan Shield.

A few hours after the attack, Martyrs of February 17th, together with Bou Salim Martyrs brigade, allegedly agreed to disband, however about 150-200 militiamen moved from Benghazi to Jebel Akhdar area.

As of December 2012, the group still existed, although it had adopted a low-key position

"The Wrath of Libya's Salafis". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The Battle of the Shrines".Foreign Policy. aWard, Sharron

What is Ansar al Sharia, and was it behind the consulate attack in Benghazi?
By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank, CNN Fri November 16, 2012

(CNN) -- Former CIA Director David Petraeus is expected to tell House and Senate committees Friday that soon after the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, it suspected Ansar al Sharia was responsible. But just what is Ansar al Sharia, and why wasn't it identified as a prime suspect two months ago?

There is no easy answer.

Ansar al Sharia is more a label than an organization, one that's been adopted by conservative Salafist groups across the Arab world. The name means, simply, "Partisans of Islamic Law."

In Benghazi, Ansar al Sharia was one of many groups that filled the vacuum of authority following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi. Its members guarded the Al Jala hospital in Tripoli, where a number of the war's wounded were treated. For a while, the group provided security at the airport, according to Noman Benotman, a senior fellow at the Quilliam Foundation in London who has closely followed the evolution of the Libyan brigades.

Ansar al Sharia took over a security building in Tripoli following Gadhafi's ouster and came up with a logo -- a pair of AK-47s, a clenched first and an open Koran.
The group's central belief is that all authority is derived from the Prophet Mohammed, that democracy is un-Islamic and that other branches of Islam, such as the Sufi, are heretical. Ansar al Sharia and members of another brigade, dubbed the Libyan Shield, have been accused of destroying Sufi shrines near Benghazi days before the attack on the consulate.

The description on the Twitter feed of Ansar al Sharia of Benghazi proclaims: "The goals of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah."

As with many of the brigades that roam Libya, Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi appears to have a fluid membership in the low-hundreds but some identifiable leaders, who have denied the group had any part in the consulate attack.

In Benghazi, the membership includes Mohammed al-Zahawi and Sheikh Nasser al-Tarshani, its religious authority. Neither has been detained. Al-Zahawi -- who fought to overthrow Gadhafi -- has given a number of interviews since the September 11 attack on the consulate.

In a BBC interview a week after attack, al-Zahawi denied Ansar al Sharia had any role in the attack, but said the group would not give up its weapons.

"We are in a battle with the liberals, the secularists and the remnants of Gadhafi," he told the BBC.

Al-Tarshani told The Irish Times the attack was wrong.

"The killing of the ambassador was not intentional — he died as a result of suffocation," he told Mary Fitzgerald in a telephone interview.

He also said that just because the assailants carried the black flag often associated with Salafist groups, it did not mean Ansar al Sharia was responsible. A CNN analysis of photographs of a large Islamist parade in Benghazi in June -- and similar shows of strength elsewhere -- indicates the flag is widely used by Libyan Islamist militia.

Another prominent Ansar al Sharia figure is former Guantanamo Bay detainee Sufian bin Qumu. But his "patch" is east of Benghazi, near the town of Derna. In the wake of the September 11 consulate attack, the 53-year old bin Qumu is thought by analysts to have left the area for a hide-out in the nearby coastal mountain range.

Al-Tarshani told The Irish Times that the Benghazi group had nothing to do with him.
Benotman, himself a former Libyan jihadist, thinks that blaming Ansar al Sharia for the attack oversimplifies the situation. He told CNN in September that its loose structure made it easy for any group with a terror agenda to infiltrate it because of a shared ideology.

One such group, Benotman said, was the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades, named for the blind Egyptian Sheikh imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The group claimed responsibility for a crude IED attack on the Benghazi consulate in June.

There does not appear to be organizational links between Ansar al Sharia and al Qaeda, but there is solidarity. Al-Zahawi praised al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri in his BBC interview, and said al Qaeda's statements "help galvanize the Muslim nation, maintain its dignity and pride."

Benotman said most people in Benghazi have little time for the Islamist brigades, as evidenced by the crowd of thousands who attacked Ansar al Sharia's headquarters in the days following the consulate attack. But he says their animosity was less ideological than borne of frustration.

"They felt the attack on consulate was a threat to their well-being. For many of the protestors, it's an opportunity to help the government make serious decisions to boost security in Benghazi," he said.

U.S. unsure of Ansar role

The narrative from U.S. officials -- on the record and off -- about who was responsible for the consulate attack in Benghazi has been, at best, confusing.

In part, that's because of the blurred lines and overlapping memberships of the different militia. On the day of the attack, a U.S. diplomatic cable sent from Benghazi described a meeting of several brigade commanders with U.S. officials two days earlier.

According to the cable, during the meeting Libyan Shield commander Ben Hamed and another Islamist militia leader "discussed the very fluid relationships and blurry lines they say define membership in the Benghazi based Brigades under the February 17, Libya Shield, and SSC [Supreme Security Committee, a Libyan government created fighting outfit] umbrellas."

Hamed and the other militia leader described themselves as members of multiple brigades, the cable said.

Then there are the conflicting reports from U.S. officials.

On September 18th, a U.S. official told CNN that Ansar al Sharia had not been positively identified as responsible for the attack, "which is more likely to turn out to be a bunch of various elements and basically (al Qaeda) militants."

Another senior official told CNN: "Ansar al Sharia is only one of the elements they are looking at. The notion that the intelligence community has zeroed in on either Ansar al Sharia -- its leader Sufian bin Qumu in particular -- is completely untrue."

At the same time, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a congressional panel: "We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaeda or al Qaeda's affiliates -- in particular, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."

The possibility that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was somehow involved in the attack was recently revived by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command.

"It appears to me very likely that some of the terrorists who participated in the attack in Benghazi have at least some linkages to AQIM," Ham told reporters in Paris this week.
At other times U.S. officials have suggested that Libyan jihadists who fought with al Qaeda in Iraq played a role along with Egyptian militants.

Little is known about who Libyan authorities detained in the wake of the consulate attack, and whether they are still detained.

A Tunisian, meanwhile, has been detained in connection with the attack, though nothing is known publicly about his links to Ansar al Sharia. Ani Ali al Harzi was arrested in Turkey and is now being held in Tunis.

What can be said with some confidence is that the Salafist trend has been revitalized across the Arab world as dictatorships have crumbled. A number of Ansar al Sharia groups have emerged not only in Libya but in Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.
"The Muslims today are not like they were before," al-Tarshani told the BBC. "They cannot stand any action that would insult our Prophet or other symbols."

Ansar al Shariah issues statement on US Consulate assault in Libya
By BILL ROGGIOSeptember 12, 2012 3:52 PM

Ansar al Shariah, an Islamist group in Libya that has been accused of executing last night's attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, issued a statement on the assault. The statement, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, is neither a full denial nor a full claim of responsibility. The group stated that it "didn't participate as a sole entity," leaving open the possibility that its members were involved. Ansar al Shariah then claimed that the attack "was a spontaneous popular uprising" to a video released on YouTube that denigrated the Prophet Mohammed.

Below is an excerpt from the statement, emphasis is ours:
Ansar al-Shariah Brigade didn't participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity, but it was carrying out its duties in al-Jala'a hospital and other places where it was entrusted with some duties. The Brigade didn't participate as a sole entity; rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to what happened by the West.

Ansar al Shariah wants you to believe that this attack was part of a "spontaneous popular uprising," and not an assault linked to an organized Jihadi-Salafist group thathas launched attacks in Benghazi in the recent past, including against at least one foreign consulate. To believe that, you also have to believe that a group of demonstrators, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, spontaneously showed up in front of the US Consulate, and then overran the security and killed the US ambassador and three Americans. While this is certainly possible, it isn't likely.

Unnamed State Department officials breifed reporters late this afternoon. The description they have provided, which generally matches news reports, indicates that this wasn't a group of rowdy protesters gone wild, but an organized attack. Fighting lasted for more than four hours before the compound was "secured." From the briefing:

At approximately 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time yesterday, which was about 10 p.m. in Libya, the compound where our office is in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists. By about 4:15, the attackers gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it on fire. The Libyan guard force and our mission security personnel responded. At that time, there were three people inside the building: Ambassador Stevens, one of our regional security officers, and Information Management Officer Sean Smith. They became separated from each other due to the heavy, dark smoke while they were trying to evacuate the burning building. The Regional Security Officer made it outside, and then he and other security personnel returned into the burning building in an attempt to rescue Chris and Sean. At that time, they found Sean. He was already dead, and they pulled him from the building. They were unable, however, to locate Chris before they were driven from the building due to the heavy fire and smoke and the continuing small arms fire.

At about 4:45 our time here in Washington, U.S. security personnel assigned to the mission annex tried to regain the main building, but that group also took heavy fire and had to return to the mission annex. At about 5:20, U.S. and Libyan security personnel made another attempt and at that time were able to regain the main building and they were able to secure it. Then, due to continued small arms fire, they evacuated the rest of the personnel and safe havened them in the nearby annex.

The mission annex then came under fire itself at around 6 o'clock in the evening our time, and that continued for about two hours. It was during that time that two additional U.S. personnel were killed and two more were wounded during that ongoing attack.

At about 8:30 p.m. our time here in Washington, so now 2 o'clock in the morning in Libya, Libyan security forces were able to assist us in regaining control of the situation. At some point in all of this - and frankly, we do not know when - we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information what his condition was at that time. His body was later returned to U.S. personnel at the Benghazi airport.

READER COMMENTS: "Ansar al Shariah issues statement on US Consulate assault in Libya"

Posted by David Carvin at September 14, 2012

That Ansar al Shariah is sophisticated enough to conduct such an operation should be the subject of more serious western analysis.

Salafists have a great deal of offensive materials they might choose as the cited provocation. The video they chose was so amateurish as to be almost incomprehensible. It is even plausible that it was produced by the Salafists themselves for their cause celebre.

Compare it to the material promoted by, for example. Far more offensive. But this material is generated by the Occupy crowd, so it would not cause the media to react in the same way.

Obviously, the provocatuers orchestrating the riots have studied the dysfunctional western dynamic between the media and Christian fundamentalists, in the same way that OBL studied the effects of planes impacting the WTC.

The ideologues in the current administration may even find this tactic useful to go along with, as it fits their campaign memes, and allows them to shift blame onto the whacko Westboro Baptist Republicans.

My response would be the following to Ansar al Shariah:
It's not all of of the Marines, SOF, battleships and drones that will respond either. Instead it will be a spontaneous popular uprising of elite trained operators, battlehsips, and flying drones that ensure civility in you country.

The Ansar al-Sharia Threat
Libyan militia behind Benghazi terror attack still operating unimpeded

BY: Bill Gertz
December 31, 2012
Ansar al-Sharia, the Islamist militia linked to the deadly terror attack against the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, continues to operate Facebook pages and conduct fundraising and proselytize in Libya, according to U.S. officials.

Intelligence reports provided to the U.S. Africa Command earlier this month revealed that Ansar al-Sharia operates several Facebook pages, including one outlet called the Campaigns of Ansar al-Sharia for Dawa and Charity. The website was operating as late as Dec. 15 before being shut down under pressure from the U.S. government.

That social media page was connected to the Benghazi-based militia behind the terrorist attack that operated a camp in Benghazi until the Sept. 11 burning of the diplomatic compound and the killings of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other Americans.

The Arabic-language Campaigns page showed photos and graphics of what it calls the charitable work of the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade, the Benghazi based jihadist group.

However, content on the page showed signs of what analysts said were apparent steps designed to deceive Western intelligence monitors into thinking the page was not directly linked to the Brigade. The deception was part of an apparent bid by the group to avoid being shut down by Facebook.

President Barack Obama promised on Sept. 12, the day after the deadly attack, that the United States would take action against those responsible for the murders and looting. “And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people,” Obama said during remarks in the Rose Garden.

So far, however, no public or covert action has been taken against the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade by either U.S. or allied military or intelligence forces. The FBI is investigating the attack as a criminal matter and agents visited the compound in Benghazi weeks after the attack, by which time most evidence had been disturbed.

A White House spokesman did not respond to emails seeking comment on why the administration has not taken action against the terrorist group.

Two suspects in the Benghazi attack were arrested in October, including Ali Harzi, a Tunisian linked to the attack. Harzi was detained in Turkey and repatriated to Tunis to face terror charges.

The Associated Press reported in October that Ahmed Abu Khattala, commander of the Islamist militia Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah, has been identified as a leader of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, according to witnesses who were present. Abu Khattala also is a leader of Ansar al-Sharia.

The Ansar al-Sharia Brigade was linked by U.S. intelligence agencies to the Benghazi attack by electronic intercepts of group members communicating with other terrorists whose communications were monitored, the Daily Beast has reported.

The group acknowledged in a Sept. 12 published statement on Facebook and YouTube that it was indirectly involved in the attack. The statement said that the group “did not participate formally and did not direct orders to its members to participate, meanwhile engaging in some of its normal functions including the protection of some institutions [in Benghazi].”

Several dozen attackers took part in the diplomatic compound strike including terrorists armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. They burned the facility and then attacked a nearby CIA facility that was engaged in covert weapons activities in Libya.

The Obama administration is under fire for putting out misleading information for weeks after the attack by claiming it was a response to an anti-Muslim video. Several intelligence officials said ignoring reports implicating al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the assault was a politicization of intelligence.

A Pentagon report published by the Library of Congress in August on al Qaeda in Libya stated: “Ansar al-Sharia, led by Sufian Ben Qhumu, a former Guantanamo detainee, has increasingly embodied al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, as indicated by its active social-media propaganda, extremist discourse, and hatred of the West, especially the United States.” Ansar al-Sharia means “supporters of Sharia” or Islamic law.

The Pentagon-produced counterterrorism analysis said Ansar al-Sharia is believed to have clandestine links to senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and has been engaged in a covert campaign to assassinate Libyan government officials. “Al Qaeda will probably refrain from using the al Qaeda name and instead may use other names, such as Ansar al-Sharia, or simply mujahedin,” the report said.

The report said Ansar al-Sharia “could be the new face of al Qaeda in Libya despite its leader’s denial.” The report said the name Ansar al-Sharia is being used by al Qaeda in the Lands of the Arabian Peninsula in areas of Yemen and by terrorist groups in Tunisia. “The Facebook sites of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and the group in Tunisia appear similar in design and content and also share contacts, suggesting coordination between the groups,” the report said.

The Ansar al-Sharia-linked Campaigns Facebook page began operating in November and carried photos of other Ansar al-Sharia Brigade Facebook pages. Photographs on the page show the logo of the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade and its media outlet, al-Raya Media Productions Foundation.

The Facebook page was used for social media connections and has been “liked” by similar Islamist groups 631 times as of mid-December. The page appears connected to the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) and counterterrorism officials believe the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia group is part of a jihadist effort to expand splinter terrorist groups in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Yemen.

The page is being used for what Muslims call “dawa,” or grassroots missionary activity, as well as for fundraising.

The group’s main jihadist cleric is Abu Mundhir al-Shinqiti and it is active in Egypt under the new Muslim Brotherhood regime as well as in Tunisia.

According to U.S. officials, the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade’s Facebook pages were shut down by Facebook after the Sept. 11 attack. But new pages quickly emerged after that date and continued to operate as recently as Dec. 15.

The Campaigns page was focused on promoting the terrorist group’s effort to spread its ideology in Benghazi and neighboring areas. Photos showed brigade jihadists giving out leaflets and clothes to children and villagers in poor areas.

The page also showed that Ansar al-Sharia is working with other Islamist groups in Benghazi, including the Islamic Corporation for Dawa and Reform and the al-Ansar Mosque.

The Facebook page of the Brigade’s Al-Raya Media Productions Foundation has called for the release of Libyan prisoners held in Iraq.

The group is using multiple social media outlets to expand its influence, including videos posted on YouTube.

This entry was posted in Middle East and tagged Ansar al-Sharia,Benghazi attackLibya.

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In Egypt, Ansar al Sharia Brigades posts hit list
By THOMAS JOSCELYN December 12, 2012 4:28 PM

In Egypt, Ansar al Sharia Brigades posts hit list
By THOMAS JOSCELYNDecember 12, 2012 4:28 PM

Egypt Independent reports:
Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights, on Tuesday filed a charge with the prosecutor general, requesting the arrest of the members of the so-called Ansar al-Sharia Brigades, after they posted on Facebook a list of assassination targets in case the state falls.

The list included familiar faces from politics and the media, as well as Pope Tawadros II and other Coptic figures.

Gabriel said that what was posted constitutes intimidation, thuggery, threats to national security and safety, sedition, terrorism and violation of the rule of law, and that all these crimes are mentioned in the Egyptian Penal Code.

He called on the interior minister to conduct investigations into who is behind the group and its finances.

I'm currently looking into this group and the claim that it has posted a hit list.
For my coverage of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia Egypt, headed by Ahmed Ashush (a Zawahiri ally)

READER COMMENTS: "In Egypt, Ansar al Sharia Brigades posts hit list"

I'm curious to know why the failure of the State qualifies as a prerequisite for the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade to indulge Their Night Of The Long Knives fantasy? Sounds like Ansar is eager to do another Luxor

The "failure of the State" language is merely a legalist dodge designed to make a transparent threat look as if it's just a 'hypothetical' response that would only be invoked if the current despot was ejected.

Morsi's opponents are obviously going to be worried.
This Salafist front has already named names.

They sound like a pleasant bunch. :-( Hope Gabriel is successful in getting the government to keep them under control.

More threats of violence from those claiming to be the true face of the "Religiion of Peace". Adorable.

Attack by Fringe Group Highlights the Problem of Libya’s Militias

Published: September 15, 2012

CAIRO — Ansar al-Shariah, the brigade of rebel fighters that witnesses say led the attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, holds that democracy is incompatible with Islam. It has paraded the streets with weapons calling for an Islamic state, and a few months ago its leader boasted publicly that its fighters could flatten a foreign consulate.

Abdullah Doma/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hani al-Mansouri, a spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, spoke Thursday about the Benghazi attack.

But if the group’s ideology may put it on the fringe of Libyan society, its day-to-day presence in society does not. It is just one of many autonomous battalions of heavily armed men formed during and after the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi who have filled the void in public security left by his fall, resisting calls to disarm by saying that the weak transitional government is not up to the job.

Ansar al-Shariah’s fighters have given conflicting stories about their role in the attack. Said to number fewer than 200, they can usually be found at Al Jala Hospital in Benghazi, where they act as its guards and protectors. And when instead they turned their guns on the United States mission, American security officers and the Libyan authorities did not call for help from any formal military or police force — there is none to speak of — but turned to the leader of another autonomous militia with its own Islamist ties.

“We had to coordinate everything,” said that militia leader, Fawzi Bukatef, recalling the first phone call about the attack that he received from the mission’s security team. The Libyan government, he said, “was absent.”

The organization and firepower used in the assault, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, has raised alarm in Washington about the possibility of links to Al Qaeda and a premeditated conspiracy that found a pretext in anger over an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. But to Libyans, the battle for the mission has underscored how easy it is for a spark like the earlier protest in Cairo to set off such an attack in post-Qaddafi Libya, when major cities are still controlled by a patchwork of independent militias and all keep their weapons at the ready.

The battle over the mission has also became the latest skirmish in a larger struggle unfolding across the region between hard-line and moderate Islamists seeking to determine the fate of the Arab Spring.

The leaders of Libya’s interim government say they hope public dismay at the attack on the mission will be the catalyst they need to finally disarm and control the militias. Mr. Stevens, the United States ambassador, was a widely admired figure for his support during the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi, and in the days after the attack far larger crowds than the one that attacked the mission turned out in both Tripoli and Benghazi to demonstrate their sadness at his death and their support for the United States.

But since the militiamen, who still call themselves “revolutionaries,” remain the power on the streets, there is an open question who will disarm or control them. “The government is required to do so,” said Mr. Bukatef, leader of eastern Libya’s most potent armed force, the February 17 Brigade. “But the government can’t do it without the revolutionaries,” he said, noting that many brigades continued to operate independently even though they now nominally report to the defense minister. “It takes a delicate approach.”

Ansar al-Shariah representatives declined to be interviewed for this article. The brigade in Benghazi, whose name means Supporter of Islamic Law, came together during the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.

Mr. Bukatef said that its numbers had seemed to range from 50 to about 200. He claimed that some of its members were responsible for the assassination during the uprising of the rebel commander Abdul Fattah Younes, in revenge for his previous role as a minister in the Qaddafi government who led a crackdown on Islamists. The transitional government, Mr. Bukatef said, was too weak to confront such a brigade, and so no one has been charged with the crime.

Many more-secular politicians in Libya are suspicious of Mr. Bukatef and his brigade because of their own Islamist reputation. He has been a member of Libya’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of his group’s commanders reporting to him is Ismail al-Salabi, who leads a group of Islamist fighters and is the brother of Libya’s most prominent Islamist thinker, Ali al-Salabi. But unlike Ansar al-Shariah, both Mr. Bukatef and the Salabi brothers have emphasized their conviction that Islam requires a democratic, constitutional government.

Ansar al-Shariah, Mr. Bukatef said, was excluded from meetings of a larger eastern Libyan militia alliance that he oversees. “Some of their members were with us at the beginning,” he said, but “we do not believe people who do not believe in the government are entitled to be with us.”

Mr. Bukatef dismissed suggestions by some in the West that Ansar al-Shariah might have ties to Al Qaeda or other international militants. “They’re Libyans. They’re extremists. They are outlaws,” he said, noting that some had served time in Colonel Qaddafi’s jails — a radicalizing experience for many Libyan Islamists.

Witnesses at the scene of the assault on the mission said they saw pickup trucks labeled with the group’s logo, which is well known in Benghazi. Fighters attacking the embassy acknowledged then that they belonged to Ansar al-Shariah, although they said there were other unarmed protesters joining them.

But amid the backlash against the attack — and the news that the beloved United States ambassador was killed — the group’s leaders have tried to distance themselves from the assault, often in muddled or contradictory ways. On the morning after the attack, a spokesman for the group made a statement to local television from the hospital saluting the assault, approvingly recalling a similar mob attack on the Italian consulate in Benghazi six years ago after an Italian minister wore a T-shirt mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

But the spokesman, Hani al-Mansouri, denied that the Ansar al-Shariah brigade had participated as “an independent entity following orders.” He said, “It was doing its work in Jala hospital and other places where it has assigned roles.” And at a news conference on Thursday night, amid growing threats of retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, Mr. Mansouri denied that any of the group’s fighters had participated, pleading with the news media to accept his denial.

Ansar al-Shariah has never been shy about its beliefs. In June the group led a parade of pickup trucks loaded with weapons through the streets of Benghazi to call for an Islamic government. Local residents were so annoyed by the display that they stopped cars to shout at them, blasted Western rap music forbidden (along with all music) by ultraconservative Islamists, and pelted them with rocks.

Later, after several minor or unsuccessful attacks on Western diplomatic offices and convoys, including a bomb blast in June outside the United States Mission, a commander of the group said his brigade would have been more ruthless if it had tried such things. While he disapproved of those attacks, including the June attack, the commander, Mohammed Ali al-Zahawi, told The Washington Post, “If it had been our attack on the U.S. Consulate, we would have flattened it.”

Members of the group have often refused to talk to Western journalists, or, in at least one case, refused to speak with a female journalist. They gave the BBC a statement of their philosophy on paper bearing the symbols of the Koran and a Kalashnikov. “Democracy is a human condition where laws are made by people,” it said. “Only God has the authority to make law and that is why Islam and Shariah are incompatible with democracy.”

The Libyan guards who were outside the United States mission during the assault said the attackers, whoever they were, made their militant ideology clear, charging that any Muslim who defended Americans had effectively disavowed the faith.

“You are an unbeliever! You are shooting at us with the Americans,” the attackers shouted at one wounded Libyan guard, as he later recalled from his hospital bed, with two bullet wounds in his right leg and shrapnel from a grenade in his left. (He spoke anonymously for his safety.) “I am just the gardener,” the guard said he eventually lied to a second wave of fighters, who carried him to the hospital.

Libyans storm Ansar Al-Shariah compound in backlash after attack on US Consulate

Published September 21, 2012  Associated Press

Sept. 21: Libyans participate in a protest against Ansar Al-Shariah, a militia of Islamic extremists, and other Islamic militias in Benghazi, Libya

BENGHAZI, LIBYA –  Hundreds of protesters angry over last week's killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya stormed the compound of the Islamic extremist militia suspected in the attack, evicting militiamen and setting fire to their building Friday.

In an unprecedented show of public anger at Libya's rampant militias, the crowd overwhelmed the compound of the Ansar Al-Shariah Brigade in the center of the eastern city of Benghazi.

Ansar Al-Shariah fighters initially fired in the air to disperse the crowd, but eventually abandoned the site with their weapons and vehicles after it was overrun by waves of protesters shouting "No to militias."

"I don't want to see armed men wearing Afghani-style clothes stopping me in the street to give me orders, I only want to see people in uniform," said Omar Mohammed, a university student who took part in the takeover of the site, which protesters said was done in support of the army and police.

No deaths were reported in the incident, which came after tens of thousands marched in Benghazi against armed militias. One vehicle was also burned at the compound.

For many Libyans, the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was the last straw in one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since the ouster and death of longtime dictator Moammar Qaddafi around a year ago -- the multiple mini-armies that with their arsenals of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are stronger than the regular armed forces and police.

The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Qaddafi's regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya's revolution, providing security where police cannot. But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings.

Militias made up of Islamic radicals like Ansar Al-Shariah are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don't abide by their hardline ideology. Officials and witnesses say fighters from Ansar Al-Shariah led the attack on the U.S. consulate, which killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

After taking over the Ansar compound, protesters then drove to attack the Benghazi headquarters of another Islamist militia, Rafallah Sahati. The militiamen opened fire on the protesters, who were largely unarmed. At least 20 were wounded, and there were unconfirmed witness reports of three protesters killed.

Earlier in the day, some 30,000 people filled a broad boulevard as they marched along a lake in central Benghazi on Friday to the gates of the headquarters of Ansar Al-Shariah.
"No, no, to militias," the crowd chanted, filling a broad boulevard. They carried banners and signs demanding that militias disband and that the government build up police to take their place in keeping security. "Benghazi is in a trap," signs read. "Where is the army, where is the police?"

Other signs mourned the killing of Stevens, reading, "The ambassador was Libya's friend" and "Libya lost a friend." Military helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead, and police mingled in the crowd, buoyed by the support of the protesters.

The march was the biggest seen in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city and home to 1 million people, since the fall of Qaddafi in August 2011. The public backlash comes in part in frustration with the interim government, which has been unable to rein in the armed factions. Many say that officials' attempts to co-opt fighters by paying them have only fueled the growth of militias without bringing them under state control or integrating them into the regular forces.

Residents of another main eastern city, Darna, have also begun to stand up against Ansar Al-Shariah and other militias.

The anti-militia fervor in Darna is notable because the city, in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast north of Benghazi, has long had a reputation as a stronghold for Islamic extremists. During the Qaddafi era, it was the hotbed of a deadly Islamist insurgency against his regime. 

A significant number of the Libyan jihadists who travelled to Afghanistan and Iraq during recent wars came from Darna. During the revolt against him last year, Qaddafi's regime warned that Darna would declare itself an Islamic Emirate and ally itself with Al Qaeda.

But now, the residents are lashing out against Ansar Al-Shariah, the main Islamic extremist group in the city.

"The killing of the ambassador blew up the situation. It was disastrous," said Ayoub al-Shedwi, a young bearded Muslim preacher in Darna who says he has received multiple death threats because has spoken out against militias on a radio show he hosts. "We felt that the revolution is going in vain."

Leaders of tribes, which are the strongest social force in eastern Libya, have come forward to demand that the militias disband. 

Tribal leaders in Benghazi and Darna announced this week that members of their tribes who are militiamen will no longer have their protection in the face of anti-militia protests. That means the tribe will not avenge them if they are killed.

Activists and residents have held a sit-in for the past eight days outside Darna's Sahaba Mosque, calling on tribes to put an end to the "state of terrorism" created by the militias.
Militiamen have been blamed for a range of violence in Darna. On the same day Stevens killed in Benghazi, a number of elderly Catholic nuns and a priest who have lived in Darna for decades providing free medical services, were attacked, reportedly beaten or stabbed. There have been 32 killings over the past few months, including the city security chief and assassinations of former officers from Qaddafi's military.

Darna's residents are conservative, but they largely don't fit the city's reputation as extremists.

Women wear headscarves, but not the more conservative black garb and veil that covers the entire body and face. In the ancient city's narrow alleys, shops display sleeveless women dresses and the young men racing by in cars blare Western songs.

And many are impatient with Ansar Al-Shariah's talk of imposing its strict version of Islamic law. The group's name means "Supporters of Shariah Law."

"We are not infidels for God sake. We have no bars, no discos, we are not practicing vice in the street," said Wassam ben Madin, a leading activist in the city who lost his right eye in clashes with security forces on the first day of the uprising against Qaddafi. "This is not the time for talk about Shariah. Have a state first then talk to me about Shariah."

"If they are the `supporters of Shariah' then who are we?" he said. "We don't want the flag of Al Qaeda raised over heads," he added, referring to Ansar Al-Shariah's black banner.

One elder resident at the Sahaba Mosque sit-in, Ramadan Youssef, said, "We will talk to them peacefully. We will tell them you are from us and you fought for us" during the civil war against Qaddafi. But "if you say no (to integrating into the) police and army, we will storm your place. It's over."

Officials in the interim government and security forces say they are not strong enough to crack down on the militias. The armed factions have refused government calls for them to join the regular army and police.

So the government has created a "High Security Committee" aimed at grouping the armed factions as a first step to integration. Authorities pay fighters a salary of as much as 1,000 dinars, around $900, to join -- compared to the average police monthly salary of around $200.

However, the militias that join still do not abide by government authority, and critics say the lure of salaries has only prompted more militias to form.

Officials and former rebel commanders estimate the number of rebels that actually fought in the 8-month civil war against Gadhafi at around 30,000. But those now listed on the High Security Committee payroll have reached several hundred thousand.

"All these militia and entities are fake ones but it is mushrooming," said Khaled Hadar, a Benghazi-based lawyer. "The government is only making temporarily solutions, but you are creating a disaster."

CBS NEWS/ October 10, 2012, 11:11 AM
Libyan officer: U.S. knows where Ansar al Sharia, suspected in consulate attack, is, but shouldn't attack

BENGHAZI, LIBYAAn officer with the military High Command in charge of Eastern Libya tells CBS News that Ansar al Sharia fighters - suspected by the U.S. and Libyan governments of carrying out the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi - have regrouped, and are camped out close to the eastern Libyan city.

The militants were chased off their paramilitary bases in Benghazi and the city of Derna last month by angry crowds.

"They are in an area about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) east of Benghazi," Col. Hamid Hassi tells CBS News. "The Defense Ministry and the Americans know where they are. Two weeks ago, there were drones flying over the area."

Asked whether he anticipates a strike against the fighters, the colonel warned against a unilateral American attack from the air.

"America and Libya should work together on catching the men who attacked the consulate," he said. "But if the Americans act alone it will cause huge resentment and could destabilize the whole region."

The fight against Islamic extremist groups in Libya - some of which have links to al Qaeda - is broader than just Ansar al Sharia, explains Hassi, who is directing an operation involving more than 1,000 soldiers designed to capture another group of extremists who murdered four police officers at a checkpoint near the town of Susa last week.

At the moment, his operation is stalled as he waits for backup from the overstretched national army in Tripoli, which is fighting another rebellion in the town of Bani Walid, much closer to the capital in Libya's west.

"We have to concentrate on Eastern Libya," said the Colonel - who confirms that fighters with links to al Qaeda are still living and operating in the area under his command. "If we don't, we won't only lose control in Bani Walid, we will lose the whole North African coast."  

OK, here is your reality check. I was a Marine squad leader in Vam and ran dozens of S&D missions. When we were in an area that had been removed from our "free fire zone" we were required to call in for permission to fire. Squad called platoon called Bat. who called Reg. who called Div. and then the commands flowed backwards. We called in and then moved to engage. Once we had an adventagious firing position, we engaged. When the SITREP was called in it was simply. "3, 3/2. Said indigonous personel intiated fire and we returned fire" "Exploytation report to follow". The reason for all is to let you all know that if Mr. Obama had not cleared the mission a junior officer wold have and later claimed "com" problems. ObL dies and Obamastill takes the credit. Mission fails, "com" problems and Sh*t happens. It's been done that way for hundreds of years.

I hope that I didn't burst any bubbles. Semper Fi

Meeting Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi of Libyan Ansar al-Sharia
18 September 2012
Ahmed MaherBBC Arabic, Benghazi

Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi, the commander of Libya's largest Islamist brigade, is not known among Benghazi residents as a person who wants to attract media attention.
But in recent days Ansar al-Sharia has come under the spotlight.

The death of US ambassador Christopher Stevens in a military-style attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was the latest episode of violence attributed to his brigade - though no evidence has backed such accusations.

In an unusual move, Mr Zahawi agreed to give his first interview to an international broadcaster - giving a glimpse into his ideology.

Start Quote- “Our brave youths will continue their struggle until they impose Sharia”

Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi Commander of Ansar al-Sharia

"We are a brigade not a movement," he told BBC Arabic TV at the brigade's fortified headquarters in the heartland of Libya's second largest city.

"We formed our brigade after the toppling of tyrant [Muammar] Gaddafi.

"We took part in the liberation of Libya but now they are many brigades with different ideologies."

Once the dust settled after the internecine conflict last year, many brigades have emerged across Libya. Attempts by governing officials to encourage their commanders to disarm have almost proved futile. Ansar al-Sharia is no exception.

"It is not the right time we give up our arms because we are in a battle with the liberals, the secularists and the remnants of Gaddafi," explained Mr Zahawi, 44, who was wearing jeans and a black checked shirt. Nervous The brigade's building is just minutes away from the city centre. A group of heavily armed young men with growing beards mans the main entrance. They were nervous about our camera. The instructions were clear: Do not show our faces and no filming inside. Inside, our movement was restricted to one room and its attached hall where we interviewed Mr Zahawi. The brigade is operating openly like many others since the ousting of Col Gaddafi last year. And they have a goal they have not achieved yet.

"Our brave youths will continue their struggle until they impose Sharia," Mr Zahawi said confidently. The brigade has an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Mr Zahawi confirmed in the interview that his brigade had demolished and desecrated Sufi shrines in Benghazi, which they regard as idolatrous.

"It is a religious duty to remove these shrines because people worship the deceased and this is prohibited. It is not me who says so but rather our religion."

'No al-Qaeda link'

Mr Zahawi believes that the United States has an agenda.

The US consulate in Benghazi was set on fire last week, killing Ambassador Stevens

"Make no mistake, there is a massive American onslaught on Muslim countries. The crusaders want to occupy our countries and act as our guardians. They do not respect our sovereignty," he said.

His brigade was not linked to al-Qaeda though he thoroughly approves of its strategy, he said.

"Al-Qaeda's strategy is aimed at weakening US hegemony on the Muslim nation," he said.

Asked what he thinks of recent statements made by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mr Zahawi said: "Such statements are a wake-up call for Muslims.

"They help galvanise the Muslim nation, maintain its dignity and pride.

Mr Zahawi reiterated his brigade was not behind the attack on 12 September on the US consulate in Benghazi.

But he stopped short of condemning the death of the US ambassador.

"Do you think that the killing of the US ambassador is more heinous than the several insults made about the Prophet, peace be upon him?" he asked.

The US ambassador and three other US consulate staff were killed when the consulate was set ablaze in protests over an anti-Islam film made in the US.

"I swear by God that we can tolerate the killing of all people and wiping all countries off the map but we cannot tolerate a single swear word that could hurt our prophet," he said.
"They are weeping buckets on this ambassador but they won't shed any tears when dozens of Muslims are injured in these protests against the blasphemous film."

After 40 minutes the interview - which was closely watched over by his armed guards and his media assistant - came to an end.

We had expected it to be a short meeting, but Mr Zahawi had relaxed and warmed to his subject.

He shook our hands warmly before we left, though this friendly manner did not extend to the guards who escorted us to our vehicle.

 Anti-Islam film

Thousands have protested across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia against a film made in the US that depicts the Prophet Muhammad. What is in the film and why it has enraged so many people?

How did the film come to public attention?

The 14-minute video was first posted on YouTube on 1 July without attracting much attention. It was later picked up by various Arab TV stations, with religious Egyptian TV channel al-Nas' presenter Sheikh Khalad Abdalla broadcasting scenes on 8 September. A clip from his show, dubbed into Arabic, was posted online and within days had been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Afghan government says it has blocked YouTube to prevent people from watching it.
White House officials have asked YouTube to consider whether the film breaches its own guidelines. These guidelines include the stipulation: "We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we do not permit hate speech..."

Google, which owns YouTube, said in a statement that the video was "clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube", but added that "given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt" it had restricted access to the video in both countries.
The access to the video has also been blocked in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and India.

What does the film show?

The footage, a trailer for a longer film entitled Innocence of Muslims (initial title was Desert Warrior), appears to depict Islam as a religion of violence and hate, and its Prophet Muhammad as a foolish and power-hungry man.

It opens with a scene in which a Coptic family in a newly radicalised Islamic Egypt is attacked by a group of Muslims while police look on without intervening. The father tells his daughters that Muslims want to kill all Christians and that the Islamic state is hiding their crimes.

It then shows the Prophet Muhammad and his life with his family and his followers in the desert. He is shown having sex with his wife Khadija and other women.

The video implies Khadija is behind the creation of the Koran, which is described as a combination of subversions of the Torah and the New Testament.

The trailer depicts Muhammad and his followers as killers, looters and extortionists. In one scene the Prophet sanctions the sexual abuse of children; in another, he says he is gay.

Why is it so offensive?

Depicting the Prophet Muhammad in any way already defies Islamic belief, let alone satirising him. His wife Khadija and his earliest companions are also revered in their own right in Islam, and so mocking these individuals is also considered serious blasphemy.

The founding principle of Islam is that the Koran is the direct word of God, revealed to Muhammad in order that he impart it to humankind. Depicting Khadija as planning to concoct a holy book out of the Old and New Testament defies an intrinsic Islamic belief.
Other references to allegations that Muhammad had affairs with women, was greedy and violent would clearly be insulting in any context.
What do we know about how it was put together?

The entire film is thought to be around an hour long, although most have only seen a 14-minute trailer which has now been widely circulated on the internet in English and Arabic.

The fuller version had a showing in a small Los Angeles cinema, the Vine Theatre, in June, where its title was The Innocence of Bin Laden.

It was clearly put together on a budget, with a cheaply made set, amateur actors and poor production standards. It was shot over five days at a California film studio in August last year, with a cast of around 50, together with a large production crew.

The most offensive parts of the film appear not to have been in the original, but dubbed over the soundtrack at a later date.

Who is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula?

The now infamous trailer for the film was posted through a Youtube account linked to the name "sambacile" - originally reported as an Israeli-born Jewish estate agent who had raised $5m (£3.1m) from Jewish donors in the US to make the film. But this person did not exist.

US authorities now say they have identified Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian living in California, as the man who made the film.

Mr Nakoula, who was found guilty of fraud in 2010 and ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution, is thought to have used the pseudonym "Sam Bacile" to hide his identity. He denies the allegations.

Mr Nakoula is now in hiding.

What do the actors say about it?

They say they were misled about the film entirely, claiming that the original film had nothing to do with Islam or Muhammad, and that all references to him and insults to the religion were added post-production.

Cindy Lee Garcia, who had a small role in the film, told that she and others were given a script for a film and that it would be a historical drama set in the Middle East.

She is now suing Mr Nakoula, who she accuses of duping her into taking part in the "hateful" film. She is also asking a judge to order YouTube to remove the film from its site.

Who else appears to have been involved in the making of the film?
An American right-wing extremist called Steve Klein, linked with various anti-Islamic groups in California, has said he promoted the film but does not know the identity of the director.

According to Salon, Mr Klein cultivated links with Californian Coptic Christian Joseph Nasralla, who has been identified as president and CEO of Media for Christ, the organisation alleged to have produced the film.

Media for Christ is based in Duarte, California, and advertises its mission as promoting Christian values.

Pastor Terry Jones, from Florida, who gained notoriety after threatening to burn a copy of the Koran over plans to build an Islamic cultural centre near the site of the World Trade Center, has said he was in touch with a Mr Bacile over promotion of the film, but did not meet him and could not identify him.

According to, soft-porn director Alan Roberts was brought in to work on the film by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The site says he too may not have been aware what he was actually working on.

Is there something more going on here than protests about a film?

As was evident after Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were published in 2006, politicians and religious leaders in the region used perceived insults to Islam to rally public support.

Protests began to spread from Egypt to other countries - spurred on perhaps by local media - because of a long-standing mistrust and anger at the West, something a number of groups have been able to capitalise upon.

Middle East analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says that although the film will have caused genuine offence among many Muslims, groups like al-Qaeda, whose black flag has been seen at some of the protests, have seized the opportunity to stir up unrest.

Disillusionment, lack of opportunity and anger at the establishment is also feeding into the protests, analysts say.

US consulate in Benghazi 'did not have enough security'

By Frank GardnerBBC security correspondent
he attackers used heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades

Anti-Islam film protests

The US consulate in Benghazi, where the US ambassador to Libya died in an attack on Tuesday, was not given the standard security contract offered to many American diplomatic missions in the Middle East, private military contractors have told the BBC.

The consulate's walls were breached in just 15 minutes, guards were outgunned and overwhelmed and four US personnel were killed, including the Ambassador, J Christopher Stevens.

US embassies and consulates in areas of the world where they are deemed liable to attack are usually offered a formal security contract called a Worldwide Protective Services Agreement, known in the industry as a 'Wips'.

The contract, or so-called tasking order, is between the US state department and any one of several major private military contractors such as DynCorp International and Aegis Defence Services.

 “Start Quote - This was a well-crafted military operation: the attackers would have carried out at least two weeks of surveillance" ”

Noman BenotmanFormer Libyan jihadist

Under this agreement, extensive security precautions are put in place, including low-profile armoured vehicles, run-flat tyres, sufficient weapons, ammunition and trained personnel, as well as a tried and tested command and control system.

But sources have told the BBC that on the advice of a US diplomatic regional security officer, the mission in Benghazi was not given the full contract despite lobbying by private contractors.

Instead, the US consulate was guarded externally by a force of local Libyan militia, many of whom reportedly put down their weapons and fled once the mission came under concerted attack.

Possible informant?

Inside the consulate, the defenders - consisting of a small group of Libyans and private US contractors who had formerly served in the US military including the elite Navy Seals - returned fire and put into action a fall-back plan to evacuate staff to a second building.

But the defenders were quickly outgunned by the sizable and determined attacking force that used heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades prompting investigators to consider whether Tuesday's attack had in fact been planned in advance by a jihadist group.

"This was a well-crafted military operation [by the attackers]," said former Libyan jihadist Noman Benotman. "They would have carried out at least two weeks of surveillance."

With fires blazing inside the compound within minutes of the attack beginning, the US ambassador became separated from other staff in thick smoke, which is believed to have caused him to suffocate.

Mr Stevens is believed to have suffocated from fire smoke in the blazing compound

Meanwhile the attackers appeared to know exactly where staff were being taken to and fired on a second building supposed to be a safe haven, prompting suspicions they had a prior informant inside the mission.

The investigation into the attack is being conducted jointly by the FBI, the US department of justice and the Libyan authorities, with a report due to be submitted to the US state department.

Given the unstable security situation in Benghazi and eastern Libya that has developed this year, it is surprising that security precautions for such a sensitive diplomatic mission were not more robust.

The northeast of Libya, especially around the town of Darna, has long been a home for jihadists, many of whom travelled to Iraq to fight the US military or become suicide bombers.

Both US and British diplomats in Benghazi came under attack from suspected Islamist militants in June, as did the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Britain then closed down its permanent presence there that month, moving staff back to the capital Tripoli.

This week the UK Foreign Office altered its travel advice for the region, warning against all travel to Benghazi.

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