Sixteen months after Islamist extremists attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, the United States government has designated three groups that it believed were involved in the incident as terrorist organizations.
Courtesy of The Washington Post, which broke the story two days before the designations were officially announced on Friday, the State and Treasury Departments have named the two branches of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya — one in Benghazi, the other in Derna — as foreign terrorist organizations that were intimately connected to the operation against the consulate.
Inclusion on the list bans Americans from communicating with, joining or supporting the groups. Any financial assets they might hold in the United States have also been frozen.
More unusual is that on the same day, the United States blacklisted the first individual who is suspected of involvement in the Benghazi attack. Ansar al-Sharia‘s leader, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, was named a terrorist operative for the role he allegedly played in the murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, 2012.
While Qumu is not as well known in the jihadist lexicon as Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, he has been associated with Islamist extremist networks for most of his life. A former detainee of the Guantánamo Bay detention center, he was one of the original “Afghan Arabs” who traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviets who had invaded the country. After his training at one of Osama bin Laden’s camps, Qumu traveled to Sudan in the early 1990s where he worked as a driver for one of the terrorist leader’s front companies.
After pressure from the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi forced Sudan to expel him, Qumu made his way back to Afghanistan and Pakistan where he became a close member of the Taliban movement. So close that he was wounded with the Taliban fighting against the Northern Alliance. Upon his return to Pakistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Pakistani security forces were able to arrest him, handed him over to the Americans, who transferred him to Guantánamo.
Like many detainees in the prison, he was repatriated back to Libya at the request of the Gaddafi government. After a period of “reintegration,” Qumu was finally released in 2010.
Friday’s listing of Qumu as a specially designed global terrorist would seem to confirm fears that he never fully renounced his jihadist beliefs. When he is not directing attacks on Libyan security forces and Western facilities,
The next step for American authorities is finding a way to capture Qumu and prosecute him in the United States. With the daring raid that captured Abu Anas al-Libi, another Al Qaeda planner, in the middle of Tripoli last fall, Special Forces undoubtedly have the capability to execute a similar operation to nab Qumu. The difficulty is pinpointing his location, monitoring his movements to establish a daily pattern of life and getting the Libyan government to cooperate with such an operation.
It may take time to bring Qumu to justice for his role in the death of four Americans, including an ambassador. For now, the United States have taken the next best step: putting him on notice and freezing his assets.