Connection Between Al Qaeda And Embassy Attacks Remains Unproven

(Photo: Reuters)

On Thursday, an essay published at the Weekly Standard website alleged that “al Qaeda attacked multiple American assets around the world” in attacks on diplomatic posts in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. The article, penned by Thomas Joscelyn, is part of a larger, unproven narrative that the threat of terrorism has been largely ignored recently by the Obama Administration as a threat.

Joscelyn’s assertion on the role of al Qaeda is strongest when he points to Libya:

Multiple al Qaeda-affiliated groups have been linked to the complex assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. These groups include al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Ansar al Sharia militia, which is headed by an ex-Guantanamo detainee and known al Qaeda operative named Sufyan Ben Qumu. Members of the Ansar al Sharia militia were in contact with AQIM in the hours after the attack, Eli Lake reported at The Daily Beast.

The State Department and other parts of the U.S. government are currently investigating the full role that AQIM had in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of four Americans. However, direct link between the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and AQIM has yet to be fully verified.

No U.S. government officials have put forward any of the other links that Joscelyn highlights in the violence in Tunis, Cairo, and Sanaa. Joscelyn himself hedges that the connection between al Qaeda and Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt is something that “one could speculate”.

Will McCants, research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at the Center for Naval Analysis and author of the website Jihadica, says of the claims, “There are two problems with the article: factual inaccuracies and guilt by association. The two problems reinforce each other throughout. For example, the author states that Gama`a Islamiyya is a “close ally of al-Qaeda.” That is absolutely untrue. Years ago the former jihadi group completely rejected al-Qaeda’s program and has become a mainstream political actor in Egypt.”

“The article reads like the counterterrorism equivalent of the Kevin Bacon Game,” McCants continued, “This guy is connected to this guy who once saw another guy who was the brother of some other guy. You can make anyone a threat. I have been namechecked by Zawahiri several times. Am I threat? By the author’s reasoning, I may have even had something to do with the embassy riots and just don’t know it.”

Joscelyn’s article fits within a larger narrative that has only grown since the attack in Benghazi that the Obama Administration has vastly underestimated the threat of terrorism and al Qaeda in the wake of the Arab Spring. In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, former United Nations Ambassador, and Romney campaign surrogate, John Bolton decried what he labeled as a White House “ideology” that believes that the United States is no longer threatened by terrorism.

Republican leadership in the House Government and Oversight Committee is currently touting a letter from the State Department to the U.S. mission in Libya, denying a DC-3 as evidence that the security situation within Libya was vastly underestimated. However, the DC-3 is a smaller transport plane, which in and of itself would not have been particularly useful during the assault on the consulate.

The Obama Administration is pushing back against this narrative, with targeted articles noting its growing focus on AQIM. The United States recently slightly shifted its position towards approving an African coalition to intervene in Mali, where AQIM has established a stronghold. In recent weeks, the possibility of unilaterally striking at AQIM in Mali has been discussed as well.

Al Qaeda’s current strength, and its affiliates’, is currently hotly debated within counterterrorism spheres. Certainty on the exact nature and cause of the September assaults likewise remains elusive.