News24

Islamist denies role in Benghazi attack

2012-10-19 12:09

Tripoli - A Libyan Islamist militia commander who a witness and officials say helped lead the deadly assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi said on Thursday that he was at the building that night, but denied he was involved in the attack.

Ahmed Abu Khattala, who describes himself as a founder and commander of the Islamist militia Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah, told The Associated Press by telephone that he went to the consulate in the eastern Libyan city on 11 September  to rescue men that he had been informed were trapped inside.

Abu Khattala said that, despite reports of his involvement, he had not been questioned by Libyan authorities and was not in hiding, and that he was going about his daily business as a construction contractor in Benghazi.

US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the attack. It has become an issue in the US election season, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of being slow to label the assault an act of terrorism early on, and slow to strike back at those responsible.

US officials' accounts of the night include assailants storming the compound and setting its buildings aflame, American security agents taking fire across more than a kilometre of the city, the ambassador and three employees killed and others forced into a daring car escape against traffic.

A Libyan witness interviewed in the aftermath of the attack by the AP said that Abu Khattala was present directing fighters. The witness spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation.

An AP reporter was also shown a camera photo of a long-haired, long-bearded man who was wearing the Afghan-style robe favored by many radicals and whom other Benghazi residents identified as the 41-year-old militia leader. The consulate's gate with barbed wire could be seen in the background.

The New York Times has quoted unnamed Libyan officials as singling out Abu Khattala as a commander in the attack, calling him a leader in the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Shariah militia. Other Libyan witnesses say they saw Ansar al-Shariah trucks mounted with heavy weapons outside the consulate the night of the attack.