Libya Singles Out Islamist as a Commander in Consulate Attack, Libyans Say
Libyan authorities have singled out Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the Benghazi-based Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, as a commander in the attack that killed the American ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, last month, Libyans involved in the investigation said on Wednesday.
The identity and motivation of the assailants has become an intense flash point in the American presidential campaign. Republicans have sought to tie the attack to Al Qaeda to counter President Obama’s claim that by killing Osama bin Laden and other leaders his administration had crippled the group; Mr. Abu Khattala and Ansar al-Sharia share Al Qaeda’s puritanism and militancy, but operate independently and focus only on Libya rather than on a global jihad against the West.
But Mr. Abu Khattala’s exact role, or how much of the leadership he shared with others, is not yet clear. His leadership would not rule out participation or encouragement by militants connected to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian Islamic insurgency that adopted the name of Bin Laden’s group a few years ago to bolster its image, but has so far avoided attacks on Western interests.
Like the other leaders of the brigade or fighters seen in the attack, Mr. Abu Khattala remains at large and has not yet been questioned. The authorities in Tripoli do not yet command an effective army or police force, and members of the recently elected Parliament have acknowledged with frustration that their government’s limited power has shackled their ability to pursue the attackers. The government typically relies on self-formed local militias to act as law enforcement, and the Benghazi area militias appear reluctant to enter a potentially bloody fight against another local group, like Ansar al-Sharia, to track down Mr. Abu Khattala.