The Middle East Channel

Libya suspects head of Islamist group as commander of consulate attack

Libya suspects head of Islamist group as commander of consulate attack

Libyan authorities have said they suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala, the leader of Libya’s Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia, to have led the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Witnesses have reported seeing Abu Khattala at the site, but his exact role is unclear, as is whether or not he shared leadership with others. But, the allegations provide the most direct link yet between Ansar al-Sharia and the assault. The F.B.I. has been investigating the attack from Tripoli, almost 400 miles from Benghazi, and a U.S. official said they had been tracking Abu Khattala who remains at large. Having not yet established central control of security since last year’s revolution, Libyan authorities rely on local militias for law enforcement. The government-allied militias say that haven’t been directed to arrest Abu Khattala, and the government is concerned about exacerbating tensions between rival militia groups.


Syrian human rights groups say that at least 28,000 people have "disappeared" in Syria since the beginning of the 19-month long uprising, and some estimate the number of missing to be as high as 80,000. According to a director at the online activist group Avazza, "Syrians are being plucked off the street by Syrian security forces and paramilitaries and being ‘disappeared’ into torture cells. Whether it is women buying groceries or farmers going for fuel, nobody is safe." The group plans to request an investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Damascus has started to feel the strain of the country’s civil war, from which  it had been relatively isolated until recently. Meanwhile, U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lahkdar Brahimi, has warned of regional spillover of the conflict. After meeting with Lebanese officials seeking international support for a ceasefire over an upcoming holiday, which Turkey and Iran have backed, he said, "The crisis cannot remain within Syrian borders indefinitely. Either it will be addressed or it will increase … and be all-consuming." Brahimi’s remarks came shortly before reports of Syrian and Lebanese border clashes.


  • After multiple postponements, West Bank Palestinians will vote in municipal elections Saturday, which Hamas will boycott. 
  • An Iranian-American dual citizen from Texas has pleaded guilty to plotting the assassination of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States last year, at the direction of Iranian military officials.
  • A drone strike, likely by the United Strikes, killed seven suspected al Qaeda militants in the southern Yemeni city of Jaar Thursday, in the second such attack this month.

Arguments and Analysis

The Drones Are Coming to Libya‘ (Eric Posner, Slate)

"After the attack on American diplomats in Benghazi last month, President Obama vowed to hunt down the killers and bring them to justice. There is a good chance that this means that they will be incinerated by missiles fired from drones. If so, the United States will have used drones to kill members of al-Qaida and affiliated groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya-six countries in just a few years. Mali may take its turn as the seventh. This startlingly fast spread of drone warfare signifies a revolution in foreign affairs. And, for good or for ill, in an unprecedented way it has transformed the U.S. presidency into the most powerful national office in at least half a century.

In the past, presidents faced two major obstacles when trying to use force abroad. The first was technological. The available options-troops, naval vessels, or air power-posed significant risks to American military personnel, cost a lot of money, proved effective only under limited conditions, or all of the above. Dead and maimed soldiers, hostages, the massive expense of a large-scale military operation, and backlash from civilian casualties can destroy a presidency, as Vietnam and Iraq showed."

Turkey’s President Wants War in Syria. Turks Don’t.’ (Suzy Hansen, The New Republic)

"Just two years ago, as part of its "zero problems with neighbors" policy, Turkey removed visa requirements with several countries, including Syria, its neighbor to the south. Thousands of middle class Syrians flooded the 500-mile border, visiting the malls of Gaziantep or scouting for business partners amongst Turkey’s vibrant merchant class. It was a time of great enthusiasm about Turkey across the Middle East, the heyday of the Mavi Marmara affair, when the Eastern-looking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to be standing up to Israel, even the United States. Arabs embraced Turkish soap operas and named their baby boys Tayyip. Erdogan was best friend to everyone, and on especially good terms with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two were photographed palling around in the sunny Aegean town of Bodrum. Erdogan called Assad "brother.""

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey