DAVID D KIRKPATRICK
Witnesses and the authorities have called Ahmed Abu Khattala one of the ringleaders of the September 11 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi. But just days after President Obama reasserted his vow to bring those responsible to justice,Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel,sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.
Libyas fledgling national army is a national chicken, Abu Khattala said,using an Arabic rhyme. Asked who should take responsibility for apprehending the missions attackers,he smirked at the idea that the weak Libyan government could possibly do it. And he accused the leaders of the US of playing with the emotions of the American people and using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections.
Abu Khattalas defiance no authority has even questioned him about the attack,he said,and he has no plans to go into hiding offered insight into the shadowy landscape of the self-formed militias that have come to constitute the only source of social order in Libya since the fall of Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
A few,like the militia group Ansar al-Shariah that is linked to Abu Khattala and that officials in Washington and Tripoli agree was behind the attack,have embraced an extremist ideology hostile to the West and nursed ambitions to extend it over Libya. But also troubling to the United States is the evident tolerance shown by other militias allied with the government,which have so far declined to take any action against suspects in the Benghazi attack.
Although Abu Khattala said he was not a member of al-Qaeda,he declared he would be proud to be associated with al-Qaedas puritanical zeal for Islamic law. And he said that the US had its own foreign policy to blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Why is the United States always trying to impose its ideology on everyone else? he asked. Why is it always trying to use force to implement its agendas?
Abu Khattala,41,wearing a red fez and sandals,added his own spin. Contradicting the accounts of many witnesses and the most recent account of the Obama administration,he contended that the attack had grown out of a peaceful protest against a video made in the United States that mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
He also said that guards inside the compound Libyan or American,he was not sure had shot first at the demonstrators,provoking them. And he asserted,without providing evidence,that the attackers had found weapons,including explosives and guns mounted with silencers,inside the American compound.
Although Abu Khattalas exact role remains unclear,witnesses have said they saw him directing other fighters that night. Libyan officials have singled him out,and officials in Washington say they are examining his role.
But Abu Khattala insisted that he had not been part of the aggression at the American compound.
He expressed a notable absence of remorse over the assault,which resulted in the deaths of four Americans,including J Christopher Stevens,the American ambassador. I did not know him, he said.