Libya’s government earlier this month released a key terror suspect who U.S. officials say was involved in planning the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on U.S. diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi.
Faraj al Chalabi, (also spelled Shibli) an al Qaeda terrorist also linked to the 1994 terrorist murder of two German tourists, was detained by the Tripoli government in March.
However, al Chalabi was released June 12 based on claims that there was a lack of evidence to hold him custody.
A U.S. official said the U.S. government has evidence al Chalabi was linked to the Benghazi attack but did not provide that information to the Libyan government. It could not be learned why the evidence was not used to hold the suspect.
The FBI is conducting an investigation into the Benghazi attack. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on al Chalabi’s release.
Chalabi, who was arrested by the Libyans in March after returning from Pakistan, is believed by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials to be one of the people who organized the attack on the diplomatic compound.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others Americans were killed after dozens of al Qaeda-linked terrorists attacked the compound and a nearby CIA facility.
Al Chalabi was a member of both al Qaeda and the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG). He had previously been sought in connection with the attack on German nationals Silvan and Vera Becker near Sirte, Libya in 1994.
The LIFG has not been identified as continuing to operate in Libya. However, a Pentagon report on al Qaeda in Libya said: “While some of its former leaders have distanced themselves from al Qaeda and reiterated their intent to play by the democratic rules of the new Libya, clandestinely, some former members of LIFG may be among those helping to create the al Qaeda network.”
The release of al Chalabi was first reported by the Benghazi publication New Quryna Online on June 13.
That report quoted a relative as saying al Chalabi was detained in Pakistan for three months.
In an interview with New Quryna, al Chalabi identified his full name as Faraj Husayn Hasan al-Shalabi al-Urfi, who was also known in Afghanistan as Ahmad Abdallah al-Libi.
He said he left Libya in June 1995 and traveled to Sudan and Syria before settling in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he lived until the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan in October 2001.
“Consequently, I had to go to the Tora Bora Mountains, then to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where I got married and settled until I was arrested in 2004 following a Libyan-Pakistani agreement,” he stated.
He was imprisoned in Libya’s Abu-Salim Prison and was released on Feb. 15, two days before the start of the revolution that toppled Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi.
Al Chalabi said he was arrested in Pakistan some time after the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack and questioned by Pakistani and U.S. interrogators at a prison in Islamabad about Stevens’ death.
Chalabi told the news outlet that he “denied any links” to the U.S. ambassador’s murder and claimed he was unaware of Stevens’ death until it was announced.
Al Chalabi claimed he was injured at the time of the Benghazi attack.
He was then deported to Libya and arrested by Libyan security authorities at the Tripoli airport and taken to a military police prison.
He said in the published interview that FBI agents interrogated him and accused him of being one of the planners of the attack, but not the central planner. He was shown photos of people linked to the attack and asked to identify them.
“They said that I was a resident of the eastern region [of Libya] and the attack on the U.S. Consulate was carried out there,” al Chalabi was quoted as saying. “Moreover, because I was in Abu-Salim Prison, they thought that I knew some of them [people in photos], as some of the photos were of people that were believed to be prisoners in Abu-Salim Prison. I told them that I do not know any of them, because they were young, while the people who were with me in the prison were older."
Regarding his questioning by U.S. officials on Stevens’ death, al Chalabi said: “They pretended to know everything, because they were rigid in their questioning, but the truth is that until now, the Americans do not know who carried out this attack which led to the death of their ambassador or who destroyed their consulate; they are confused. At times they say that it happened against the backdrop of a popular attack over the film that offends the prophet, peace be upon him, and at other times they say it was planned. If it was planned, they do not know who did it.”
Al Chalabi said a judge ruled that there was no evidence against him and allowed him to be released, adding that he believed “the Americans did not want to do so."
His passport was seized to prevent him from leaving Libya and he must report to a police station once a week, he said.
The Benghazi attack has become a major focus of House Republicans, who have charged the Obama administration lied about the terrorist attack, claiming it was the outgrowth of a protest and not a coordinated terrorist strike.
At least two House committees are investigating the attack.
The State Department Accountability Review Board concluded in a report that the department was guilty of a series of security failures related to the attack.
President Barack Obama vowed to bring the attackers to justice.
But so far the FBI has failed to apprehend any of the attackers.
“The administration remains committed to bringing to justice the perpetrators of this attack, but for all details on the investigation, I refer you to the FBI,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told the Washington Free Beacon.
Meanwhile, reports continued to show that al Qaeda terrorists are moving into Benghazi.
Al Chalabi was not one of the six people whose photos were posted on the FBI’s web site last month as part of its Benghazi probe.
The FBI posted surveillance video images of six men it suspects in the attacks on the diplomatic compound.
The Associated Press reported that the U.S. government has enough evidence to justify seizing the men as suspected terrorists linked to the attack, including the use of military force.
However, the news agency said the authorities do not have enough evidence to use in a criminal prosecution in a U.S. court.
The suspects remain at large.
The FBI had identified several people it believes were involved in both the planning and the actual attack.
U.S. officials attribute the lack of a central government and the proliferation of militias throughout Libya for the difficulties the bureau is having with its investigation.
The Facebook page of the pro-government Command Council of 17 February Revolution posted an Arabic-language statement that said al Qaeda is infiltrating into Benghazi.
“May God protect us from the evil of this night,” the statement said. “Individuals of different nationalities from the al Qaeda Organization entered Benghazi. Sufyan Qumu leads them. It is worth noting that Sufyan Qumu is responsible for their training and for providing them with weapons in the mountains of the city of Darnah. Most militants are from Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Algeria."