What “Desert Warriors” Attacked Us in Libya?

There’s a weird bifurcation in the coverage of yesterday’s Libya tragedy.

The Islamist plot in Benghazi

One strand of coverage revised the initial claims that the mob that burned the consulate in Libya were responding solely to  an anti-Mohammed film, The Innocence of Muslims. Jihadist chat rooms and–presumably–SIGINT made it clear that the attack on the consulate was planned in advance, probably as retaliation for the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi, whom we killed in a drone strike in June.

The officials said there were indications that members of a militant faction calling itself Ansar al Sharia – which translates as Supporters of Islamic Law – may have been involved in organizing the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya’s second-largest city.

They also said some reporting from the region suggested that members of Al-Qaeda’s north Africa-based affiliate, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been involved.

“It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack” and appeared to be preplanned, one U.S. official said.

Not only does it suggest that Moon of Alabama was (once again) right. But it also made me remember this post from All Things Counterterrorism, which warned that killing Abu Yahya al-Libi might make Al Qaeda even more extreme.

One seriously underplayed piece of evidence that this was planned is that after Consulate employees evacuated to a safe house and a helicopter of commandoes came to recuse them, they were ambushed at the purportedly secret location.

Capt. Fathi al-Obeidi, whose special operations unit was ordered by Libya’s authorities to meet an eight-man U.S. Marine force at Benghazi airport, said that after his men and the Marines had found the American survivors who had evacuated the blazing consulate, the ostensibly secret location in an isolated villa came under an intense and highly accurate mortar barrage.

“I really believe that this attack was planned,” he said, adding to suggestions by other Libyan officials that at least some of the hostility towards the Americans was the work of experienced combatants. “The accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any regular revolutionaries.”


Speaking of the rescue mission, he said: “A team of commandos arrived by air and went to a farm which we thought was a secret location. Once they got there, they came under heavy fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, which resulted in the death of two others.”

(Note, I’m not sure, but this may suggest two safe locations were compromised, an urban villa and a farm, each attacked with different weapons; I’m trying to clarify this. Update: Yes, two sites were compromised–apparently because the US shared the information with the Libyan militia.)

This suggests not only that professionals launched this attack with advance warning and serious weaponry (this is part of the reasons Libyans initially blamed it on Qaddafi dead-enders), but that they did it with either inside knowledge or incredibly good intelligence.

The Islamophobic plot in California

The second strand of coverage has puzzled through who was responsible for the film itself.

The film was made by a “Sam Bacile,” who claimed to the WSJ and AP to be Israeli. Then a “consultant” on the film, the militant Christian Steve Klein, refuted that claim, while claiming to know little of the film-maker’s real story.

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California.

When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: “I don’t know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He’s not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he’s Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

Then the AP figured out “Sam Bacile” is actually a Coptic Christian with 2010 check kiting conviction named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who lied to them about his identity.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad and may have caused inflamed mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya. He provided the first details about a shadowy production group behind the film.


Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found it and other connections to the Bacile persona.

Laura Rozen discovered that in July 2011, Klein, the militant Christian, set up a company called Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment that seems to have coincided with the filming of the video.

It became clear that the film was originally shot as a script called Desert Warriors, with completely different names. The link to Mohammed was overdubbed into the sound track in post-production.

Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif., has a small role in the Muhammed movie as a woman whose young daughter is given to Muhammed to marry. But in a phone interview this afternoon, Garcia told us she had no idea she was participating in an offensive spoof on the life of Muhammed when she answered a casting call through an agency last summer and got the part.

The script she was given was titled simply Desert Warriors.

“It was going to be a film based on how things were 2,000 years ago,” Garcia said. “It wasn’t based on anything to do with religion, it was just on how things were run in Egypt. There wasn’t anything about Muhammed or Muslims or anything.”

In the script and during the shooting, nothing indicated the controversial nature of the final product, now called Muslim Innocence. Muhammed wasn’t even called Muhammed; he was “Master George,” Garcia said. The word “Muhammed” was dubbed over in post-production, as were essentially all other offensive references to Islam and Muhammed.

For example, at 9:03 in the trailer, Garcia berates her husband, who wants to send their daughter to Muhammed: “Is your Muhammed a child molester?” she says in the final product. But the words are dubbed over what she actually said. The line in the script—and the line Garcia gave during filming—was, “is your God a child molester,” Garcia told us today.

In short, a shady group of Islamophobes started working on this hoax video over a year ago, posted it in English to little notice this summer, but then loaded it up in Arabic just in time to set off riots earlier this week.

In other words, a day of reporting have corrected a bunch of initial misconceptions to reveal a plot led by radical Islamists in North Africa and a plot led by radical Islamophobe Egyptian Christians here, both remarkably coinciding in a Consulate attack on 9/11, the death of one of our most qualified Ambassadors, and mobs across the Islamic world.

And that may, in fact, be what we have: two plots. It’s not surprising the Islamists struck on 9/11, nor is it surprising the Islamophobes deliberately incited violence for 9/11.

For the moment, though, I have just one question about that theory.

The Islamists used the mobs as cover for their attack in Benghazi, but the attack had been planned in advance, complete with mortars in place to attack the evacuation site.

Now maybe it was just auspicious for the Islamists that some Egyptian-American Islamophobes incited mobs on precisely the day Islamists planned their attack. Maybe it was just auspicious for terrorists on both sides of the Atlantic this timing came together.

It is, after all, 9/11, a day that incites extremists of all sorts.

Or maybe there’s another explanation entirely, in which all the identities we’re working with thus far are covers?

Given that the mobs continue in Egypt and have spread to Yemen, we might want to get a more solid answer to this question than we now have.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

24 replies
  1. harpie says:

    [I haven’t fully read the article, Marcy, but I don’t have much time this morning, and I’ve been doing some follow up in comments at Glenn Greenwalds column, so I thought I might add it here.]

    Who is Steve Klein?
    Church at Kaweah Spreads Hateful, Militant Christian Views; Southern Poverty Law Center; Spring 2012

    [They mention a similarity with the Hutaree Militia]

    […] Over the past year, Johnson and the church militia have developed a relationship with Steve Klein, a longtime religious-right activist who brags about having led a “hunter killer” team as a Marine in Vietnam. Klein, who calls Islam a “penis-driven religion” and thinks Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca is a Muslim Brotherhood patsy, is allied with Christian activist groups across California. In 2011, as head of the Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, he worked with the Vista, Calif.-based Christian Anti-Defamation Commission on a campaign to “arm” students with the “truth about Islam and Muhammad” — mainly by leafleting high schools with literature depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a sex-crazed pedophile. […]

    From the original AP article:

    [The film] depicts Muhammad as a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other overtly insulting claims that have caused outrage.

  2. harpie says:

    In other words, a day of reporting have corrected a bunch of initial misconceptions to reveal a plot led by radical Islamists in North Africa and a plot led by radical Islamophobe Egyptian Christians here, both remarkably coinciding in a Consulate attack on 9/11, the death of one of our most qualified Ambassadors, and mobs across the Islamic world.

    Perfect summation.

  3. OrionATL says:

    another matter that is still hanging is whether ambassador stevens was the specific target of the attacks (the two (or is it now three?) waves of highly-trained soldiers in separate places).

    it is hard for me to believe he was not which, if true, further supports the notion of inside information from the embassy being fed to the attacking force.

    given that the attacks in benghazi may have been retaliation for the death of al-libi, it would not be credible that the attackers would have just “lucked upon” the ambassador while he was visiting benghazi.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @OrionATL: Agree it’s still in question. If so, though, it was a gross miscalculation, as Stevens was popular among Libyans. That they killed him made this a big PR disaster for the Salafirsts, I think.

  5. OrionATL says:


    i was thinking of al-quaeda’s – big aq, zawhahiri’s aq – possible responsibility.

    have they just been tagging along on someone else’s initiative and actions, or did they provide training or even troops, especially leaders, for the benghazi attack with the specific intent of harming the us in the same way the us harmed them.

  6. bourbaki says:

    I imagine the answer is probably related to how did Sheikh Khaled Abdalla (see here— the guy who promoted (if thats the right word) the video on Egyptian TV — find out about it?

    Such a weird story.

  7. blueskybigstar says:

    Often times, a person who is making trouble for the corrupt in our government are killed by people in our government, and then their deaths are used to justify retaliation, so that the military can further their goals to protect and secure the wealth of the richest people in the world.

  8. ryan says:

    I’m trying to wrap my ahead around the idea that two right-wing Coptic Christians are named Ron Klein and Morris Sadek.

  9. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    This whole thing seems too weird for words.

    Max Blumenthal at the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/13/egypt-libya-hollywood-film

    In 2011, during his campaign to oust Sheriff Baca, Klein forged an alliance with Joseph Nasrallah [ who seems to also use the name ‘Bacile’], an extremist Coptic broadcaster who shared his fear and resentment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasrallah appeared from out of nowhere at a boisterous rally against the construction of an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2010, warning a few hundred riled-up Tea Party types that Muslims “came and conquered our country the same way they want to conquer America”.

    Organized by Geller and Spencer, the rally was carefully timed to coincide with the peak of the midterm congressional election campaign, in which many rightwing Republicans hoped to leverage rising anti-Muslim sentiment into resentment against the presidency of Obama.
    [italics mine]

    And Col. Pat Lang has some interesting posts (and commenters), including:

    The longer this crisis continues the more the whole thing smells like an attampt to cause difficulty for BHO in the American election. Now, who would want to do that?

    On the surface of things, a few extremists are destabilizing entire nations, via YouTube. It’s possible the world is that fragile, but the timing is suspicious. And ‘Bacile’/Nasrallah just appears, as if out of nowhere, in NYC to egg on the Tea Party; later, he raises money to make a film that seems non-religious, until re-dubbed and uploaded in July 2012?! And then some Egyptian ‘mysteriously’ discovers it just around 9/11…?

    Wow, excuse me while I go get my binoculars, because I want to get a really good look at the herd of pigs flying and oinking their way over my house right now…

  10. OrionATL says:

    one thing i worry could come out of this is serious, possibly destabilizing, sectarian conflict in egypt.

    it is hard to imagine that muslims will not attack coptic churches and neighborhoods. anyone who was a copt could hardly be dumb enough not to realize this

    if you care about your fellow copts in egypt, you do not make, release, or call attention to this film there. presumably, an american right-wing preacher would also understand the danger such a film posed to his fellow christians in egypt.

    american fundamentalist leaders have developed a relationship with israeli fundamentalists.

  11. rugger9 says:

    @OrionATL: #13
    I feel in my gut Terry Jones is part of this as well, it has his stench.

    Anyhow, it’s all about the Rapture and End Times, and these morons believe they’re the chosen ones and are trying to move the End Times along.

    If they were truly Christian [and they aren’t] they know that God doesn’t respond to our requests for appointments on stuff like this.

    It’s time to sue these lying sacks of s%$%$t, started by the actors who are now targeted after getting their work modified, and the families of the dead and wounded, they should all sue Terry and Stevie and Bacile by whatever name. And then the USG should prosecute for voluntary manslaughter at a minimum.

  12. P J Evans says:

    The latest theory I’ve heard – it may be here already – is that there was a planned action, probably because of the date, and that they took advantage of the rioting.
    The Libyans think there was someone in their security forces who told the militants about the safe house. They are not happy about this whole thing.

  13. P J Evans says:

    Yeah, I want to know how something that was that unknown in the US got publicized in such a way that the people most likely to be offended were the same people most likely to hear about it.

  14. P J Evans says:

    I think he organized the funding and probably the uploading to Youtube. Just my opinion, though.

    I wonder if the people who put the video together and uploaded it can be charged (by us or by Libya) for inciting to riot and accessories to homicide?

  15. joanneleon says:

    On the same day, Libya elected their Prime Minister but this news was pretty much buried. I don’t know if it is relevant to the situation with the protests and the killing of the ambassador. But there are other dots that might be things that can be connected… or not in this perfect storm.

    Libya’s parliament elects new prime minister

    TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libya’s parliament elected Wednesday a leading member in the country’s oldest opposition movement to be its new prime minister.

    Mustafa Abu-Shakour is tasked with stabilizing a country where armed groups proliferate. Washington’s ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed during a late Tuesday attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
    Abu-Shakour, deputy to Libya’s outgoing interim prime minister, is considered a compromise figure acceptable to both Islamists and liberals.

    We know that eastern Libya wanted to break off from the western part of the country because they felt that they were not represented fairly in this new government.

    Another dot that can’t be ignored is the recent revelation about torture in Libya, though it’s hard to believe that this was news to the Islamic Fighting Group, our recent allies in the Libyan revolution who may now have turned and executed a planned attack. Maybe the extent of the U.S./CIA involvement was news to them and this is part of the Libyan “blowback” that some people have been referring to. Maybe they were being tossed aside post-revolution.

    Another dot: BP recently announced that they would start operations both onshore and offshore in Libya soon, in 2013. An interesting development, related or not, is that Tony Hayward and his Genel oil company seems to have engineered a way to scoop up a bunch of development areas in Malta without other negotiating parties realizing he was the one who was acquiring them. The identity of his company was revealed at the last minute. Hayward said that “Malta was an extension of Libya’s Sirte basin, one of the world’s great oil-producing areas”. One story about it is here.

    I’ve tried to keep up with what’s going on in Libya to some extent but there has been relatively little analysis of the situation in the news. Several times I did read that it is very difficult for businesspeople to travel there and conduct business and the person interviewed said there were a limited number of places where he felt safe staying, in Tripoli (and their biggest oil producing areas are not in Tripoli). The international firms and workers who work their oil fields have not all returned and they have not been able to bring their production levels up to pre-revolution levels (though they were doing better than expected). Recently, things

    But even before the U.S. envoy’s killing Tuesday, attacks on Western interests in June and political protests this summer had already caused some oil-service companies and those with exploration concessions to revise their staffing plans for Libya.

    That threatened the country’s plans to boost output to 2.2 million barrels a day over the next three years, up 40% from present levels. Such an increase would be enough to overtake Angola to become the eighth largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

    Back in July, Libyan production dropped by 200,000 barrels a day for a short period when protests over parliamentary elections disrupted operations at the country’s largest terminal in el-Sider, in eastern Libya.

    When it resumed its operations in May, BP BP.LN +1.12% PLC, which has by far the largest exploration plans in Libya, involving investment of $900 million, said the move would pave the way for a return of its expatriates. But three months on, a spokesman for the British company said it had yet to send its foreign staff back because the situation isn’t considered safe enough.


    Read the rest. I think it is another dot that must be considered.

    It would guess that Libya’s oil production would be more important than ever given the tenuous situation with Iran but I am no oil expert.

    Anyway, I guess that more details will come out about all of this in the coming days and maybe things will become clearer but right now it seems like quite a perfect storm, or a well coordinated effort that, to me, seems beyond the capabilities and scope of the supposedly crippled Al Qaeda or the rebel groups or militias in Libya. Does not pass the smell test, imho.

    One of the results is that an ambassador who would probably be one of the key figures (and one of the few people) who could help stabilize Libya is dead. Another result is that we now have boots on the ground in Libya and U.S. warships steaming to the coast of Libya with more troops.

  16. greengiant says:

    @joanneleon: Reduction in world oil supply from Libya goes hand in hand with the Iran oil export embargo and those financial/political entities interested in shortage/emergency/pricing.

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