The U.S. government is now acknowledging, at least indirectly, a significant al Qaeda connection to the 9-11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. mission and CIA station in Benghazi.
On Monday, the State Department designated the Mohammed Jamal Network (MJN) and its founder, Mohammed Jamal as terrorists. The Wall Street Journal first reported on October 1, 2012 that fighters affiliated with MJN participated in the Benghazi attacks. The Daily Beast and other news outlets have since confirmed the report.
Seth Jones, the associate director for the international security and defense policy center at the RAND Corporation, told the Daily Beast, “There was at least one member and may have been more members from the Mohammed Jamal network on the compound for the attack on Benghazi along with members of Ansar al-Sharia and members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
The designation released Monday from the State Department does not mention the network’s role in Benghazi. It does state that Jamal has been in close contact with al Qaeda leaders since he traveled to Afghanistan in the late 1980s. When Jamal returned to Egypt in the early 1990s he became the operational commander for Egyptian Islamic Jihad. At the time the group was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is currently the leader of al Qaeda.
Jamal’s relationship with al-Zawahiri continued until at least 2012. When he was arrested, Egyptian authorities found correspondence with the al Qaeda leader on Jamal'ss laptop computer. The designation says in this correspondence “Jamal asked for assistance and described MJN’s activities, including acquiring weapons, conducting terrorist training, and establishing terrorist groups in the Sinai.” The contents of the seized laptop was first reported by an Egyptian newspaper and later confirmed and published by the Long War Journal, a website that closely monitors U.S. counter-terrorism activities.
Jones said the Jamal network’s relationship to al Qaeda had been widely known in counter-terrorism circles. “What’s new is that the government is making it explicit and public that the Jamal network is linked to al Qaeda,” Jones said.
The State Department’s designation says Jamal formed the network in 2011 after he was released from an Egyptian prison during the country’s revolution. It says that his network received funding from al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate and that Jamal himself has used that affiliate to “smuggle fighters into training camps.” It also says suicide bombers have trained at MJN traning camps and that Jamal has “established links with terrorists in Europe.”
The Obama administration has been reluctant to publicly draw a direct connection to al Qaeda and the assault on September 11, 2012 that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. It took nearly two weeks for the White House to acknowledge the attacks were terrorism.
The unclassified version of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, the only official assessment of the attacks from the Obama administration, makes two mentions of al Qaeda in the report. On page 15 it says the attacks took place as al Qaeda’s influence was rising in eastern Libya. On page 2 it says, “The Benghazi attacks also took place in a context in which the global terrorism threat as most often represented by al Qaeda (AQ) is fragmenting and increasingly devolving to local affiliates and other actors who share many of AQ’s aims, including violent anti-Americanism, without necessarily being organized or operated under direct AQ command and control.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah whose House subcommittee has investigated the Benghazi attacks for more than a year, said the designation Monday “draws the link closer to al Qaeda.” He added, “For a long time the Obama administration would not even acknowledge al Qaeda’s presence in Libya, obviously they were there and they were active. I am glad he is now designated as a terrorist.” But he said it begs the question why Benghazi was not mentioned in the designation of Jamal and his network.