Is There a Benghazi-Algeria Terror Link? Report Connects Libya Consulate Attack to Algerian Hostage Crisis
According to a senior Algerian official, the militants captured following the deadly attack at an Algerian gas complex last week included several Egyptian members of the terrorist group that took part in the in attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last September.
The New York Times has reported that the Egyptians that were involved in both attacks were killed by Algerian forces during the siege last week that resulted in the deaths of at least 38 hostages and 29 kidnappers.
Three other militants were captured alive, and one of them has described the Egyptian militants’ roles in both attacks under interrogation by the Algerian security services, according to the New York Times.
The militants also received logistical aid from Islamists in Libya, a source has told AFP. Although, when questioned on Saturday about Libya’s role in the four-day ordeal, Ali Zeidan, Libyan Prime Minister stated, “Libya will not allow anyone to threaten the safety and security of its neighbors.”
However, since the chaos that ensued following Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, Libya’s southern regions have become a smuggling route for weapons, reaching the al Qaeda militants that are deeper in the Sahara.
If the link between the two attacks is confirmed, it will reinforce the trans-border character of the Islamist militant groups that seem to be growing in the volatile areas surrounding the Sahara.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her testimony before congress today, said that there is “no doubt” that the terrorists involved in both attacks were linked, and that the militants who attacked the BP facility last week were armed with weapons that slipped out of Libya.
According the ABC News, Clinton claimed that one of the reasons Americans were in Benghazi when the attack occurred was to round up those weapons.
"One of the reasons that we and other government agencies were present in Benghazi was exactly that. We had a concerted effort to track down and find and recover as many MANPADS and other very dangerous weapons as possible," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referring to man-portable, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
"The Pandora's Box of weapons coming out of these countries in the Middle East and North Africa is the source of one of our biggest threats. There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya… So we just have to do a much better job."
The man who claims to have planned the Algerian attack on behalf of Al-Qaeda, Mokhtar Belmokhtar confirmed his own involvement as well as 40 other Islamist militants, including Westerners in a video message posted by a website called Sahara Media, based in Mauritania.
"We had around 40 jihadists, most of them from Muslim countries and some even from the West," Sahara Media quoted Belmokhtar as saying, according to the Telegraph.
“We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali's Muslims," he added.
Belmokhtar is also said to have married four northern Malian Arab and Tuareg women, according to the Telegraph, solidifying his ties in the region, and to have a son named Osama, presumably after Bin Laden.
U.S. officials have linked perpetrators of each attack to Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliates in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), although subgroups, including Belmokhtar’s have been involved in the Algeria attack.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little stated, "I would note that al Qaeda in the Maghreb is not necessarily a monolithic group … There are different elements so it's important to bear that in mind … [AQIM] does what terrorists do: they plan and carry out attacks."