The Benghazi Suspect Was Headed to Syria

This Eli Lake story describing what has happened to one of two Benghazi suspects arrested in Turkey confirms something I long suspected: he was headed for Syria.

These people say Turkish officials held [Ali Ani] al-Harzi for less than a week at the behest of the U.S. government, then sent him to Tunisia. There, he was kept in military custody until last week, when he was transferred to a jail in preparation for a court trial. It’s unclear what role he might have played in the attacks or what he might be charged with. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. intelligence community are working with Tunisian authorities, but there has been no deal yet on whether to send al-Harzi to the U.S. or keep him in Tunisia where he could be charged under the country’s own counterterrorism laws. The Tunisians have also not yet allowed U.S. officials direct access to the suspect.

Al-Harzi is a member of violent extremist networks in North Africa, one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast. This person added that he was also connected to jihadist organizations in the Middle East and was headed to Syria when he was detained in Turkey. [my emphasis]

Think about what it means that a guy who had just bragged about attacking our Benghazi mission was headed for Syria–through Turkey.

While there have long been claims that jihadists involved in overthrowing Qaddafi (though remember, this guy is Tunisian) made up some of the fighters in Syria, this makes it clear how unfriendly to American interests some of those jihadists are. Moreover, it suggests terrorists now consider Syria a kind of hiding place. (Note, Lake’s September 28 story reporting his brag may well have alerted al-Harzi that he needed to seek refuge.)

The apparent link between the people who attacked the mission in Benghazi and the “freedom fighters” in Syria explains something else. This month there has been a series of stories detailing how the jihadists in Syria are the ones getting arms; there’s also some blame-game going on, with sources trying to blame Qatar, and not Saudi Arabia, for arming terrorists. I can see now why these countries are scrambling to absolve themselves of arming terrorists–because the terrorists have ties to attacks on the US. (Incidentally, it shouldn’t make sense ideologically, but I keep thinking about the fact that Qaddafi’s old spook Moussa Koussa is hanging out in Qatar these days.)

One more point about this. Though this arrest was reported on October 4, the arrest itself took place on October 3, the same day Turkey decided to start shelling Syria.

That was also the day of the first Presidential debate. I said then–and believe even more now–that one of the reasons Obama did so poorly in that debate is because he had just been briefed on increasing hostilities in Syria. He had also, presumably, just been briefed that one of the guys involved in the Benghazi attack was fleeing to Syria to take part in those increasing hostilities.

There has always been reason to worry about Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s attempts to do in Syria what they did in Afghanistan in the 1990s. But this seems like pretty strong circumstantial evidence that the Qatar-armed terrorists in Syria would ultimately target the US.

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.

5 replies
  1. marksb says:

    Thank you! I’ve wondered why most analysts were completely ignoring the issues happening in Syria and Turkey on Oct 3 and 4.
    The President was probably up for the last two days as Turkey was responding to the shelling: notifying NATO and the US Security Council that their Parliament had authorized a military response to Syria’s aggression. That happened Oct 4, Turkish time, which was probably our midnight or the wee hours (U+2, or 7 hours ahead or DC), and you can bet Obama was on the phone for most of the night and during that day. No wonder he looked tired and preoccupied.

    Time line here
    http://www.globalnews.ca/6442588297/story.html

  2. Brindle says:

    Interesting storyline around Hi-Tech Stingers( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIM-92_Stinger#Syrian_civil_war, ) CIA Libyan Op and Syrian “freedom fighters/jihadists.

    —“The apparent link between the people who attacked the mission in Benghazi and the “freedom fighters” in Syria explains something else. This month there has been a series of stories detailing how the jihadists in Syria are the ones getting arms; there’s also some blame-game going on, with sources trying to blame Qatar, and not Saudi Arabia, for arming terrorists”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/world/middleeast/syrian-rebels-claim-to-have-brought-down-a-jet.html?pagewanted=all

    —“Mr. Nader said the rebels could be lying. He said the rebels might not be admitting that they have antiaircraft missiles provided by international allies, because those allies did not want to be seen as fueling the conflict.

    “Regardless of how they did it, if they can put down a jet fighter, then they can put down other planes as well,” said Sami Nader, an analyst and professor of international relations at St. Joseph University in Beirut.”

  3. emptywheel says:

    @Brindle: I’ve honestly been waiting for the Stingers. Just wondering whether we’d ever trace it back to China.

    In perhaps related news, the US now produces more natural gas than Qatar.

  4. joanneleon says:

    Some months ago Robert Fisk reported about how some very significant percentage of “freedom fighters” in Syria are foreigners, jihadists for hire. One of them in an interview did not even know what country he was in. He thought he was in Palestine and was saying that he didn’t realize how beautiful Palestine was. Well he was in Syria, on a mission from Allah.

    Qatar and Saudi Arabia aren’t the only ones worried about being accused of arming terrorists, IMHO.

  5. Brindle says:

    @emptywheel: The purpose and size of the CIA contingent at Benghazi was murky. They were said to be tracking down weapons of concern, like Stingers, but who knows?–that could be a “limited hang-out” story.

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