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Hunt for killers of U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi 'being held back by Libya' – as Republicans claim military not FBI should investigate attack
23:30 GMT, 11 December 2012
At large: The men who killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens have not been caught
Three months after Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a diplomat and two CIA contractors were murdered in Benghazi, there is no sign of the killers being brought to justice by the United States.
The investigation into the attacks has been hampered by the reluctance of the Libyan authorities to move against the Islamist terrorists identified by the FBI as responsible for the killing, according to American officials briefing the 'New York Times'.
None of the suspects has been arrested or killed and some have fled Libya.
Last month, the FBI issued a global appeal asking anyone with information about the killers to send information in an e-mail, text message or via Facebook.
Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979, diplomat Sean Smith and CIA contractors and former U.S. Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed in an attack on the U.S. consultate in Benghazi on September 11.
The following day, President Barack Obama vowed: 'Make no mistake, justice will be done.'
But that promise may remain unfulfilled if there is not more cooperation from the Libyan authorities.
'This case is surrounded and intertwined with sensitivities – it is a process of doing business there and respecting their sovereignty,” an American official who has been briefed on the investigation told the New York Times.
Destruction: The U.S. Consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including the Ambassador on September 11 this year
Since first visiting Benghazi in early October, FBI agents have returned to the city at least twice to interview witnesses and collect evidence. Libyan witnesses have been asked to identify suspects caught on surveillance cameras at the consulate and in photographs taken during the attacks.
General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, told the newspaper that investigators believed that they had identified some but not all of the major assailants on the consulate and the nearby CIA annex, but 'we don’t yet have sufficient information to indict anyone' and the U.S. was 'still collecting and building information'.
He added that the 'the Libyans clearly accept responsibility' for investigating the attack but 'I have expressed to the Libyans that it hasn’t proceeded as quickly as any of us would have liked'.
A senior FBI official is leading a team of agents investigating the case, many of whom are from the FBI’s New York office. The FBI’s legal attach from the U.S.Embassy in Cairo has also been taking part in the investigation.
The official said that rather than
focussing on making a case in preparation for a trial, the FBI agents
in Libya were concentrating principally on establishing what occurred
before and during the attacks.
investigation: The burnt-out U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. FBI agents have covered the city to interview witnesses and collect evidence
'This is an intelligence-driven investigation, the goal is to establish the facts,' the official said. 'Like this and other cases abroad, we have to be very sensitive. Every country is different when there is investigating on their turf.'
But the Obama administration has been criticised by Republicans, who argue that the U.S. military and not the FBI should be taking the lead and accuse the White House of treating the attacks as a criminal matter rather than an act of war.
'It would be a serious mistake to return to the policy of treating attacks as a law enforcement issue,” said Representative Peter King, a Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. 'To me, this is a war – this is not a street crime and should not be considered a criminal justice issue.'
Among the blocks that the FBI has come up against in Libya has been a reluctance by some police and government officials to go after members of Ansar al-Shariah, the local Islamist group that took part in the attack.
Benghazi agents were NOT armed at when the Libyan consulate was attackedToday a source with personal knowledge of the security situation in Benghazi said that Senators who listened to closed door testimony on the attack learned that State Department security agents were not armed.In addition, they heard how agents were separated from Ambassador Chris Stevens as they went to retrieve weapons but only one managed to return to protect the top U.S. official in Libya.'From the accounts I read, those guys were not ready. When the attack came that night, they had to go back to the other room and grab their weapons,' said the source to Breitbart News.'Then the worse part about it was they never even returned to be with the Ambassador. One returned to be with the Ambassador with his rifle.'The news that agents at the Benghazi compound were unarmed is likely to concern the House Committee on Foreign Affairs when it questions Secretary of State Hilary Clinton later this week.The source described, “Part of the problem was they never really wanted to fully staff it [consulate], and so the numbers were really low.”According to the Breitbart News source, the State Department security agents are “six week temporary duty assignments.'
Libyan officials in Benghazi have said that it would be impossible for their embryonic security forces to arrest members of powerful militias, some of whom fought with Ansar al-Shariah members during the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
One witness told the New York Times that the FBI tried to question him in front of other Libyans, making him that his identity would be revealed. Others fear that they will not be protected if they cooperate with the FBI.
The American official conceded that the relationship with the Libyan was not optimal. 'When you deal with a foreign country, you have to play by their rules,' the official said.
'You can’t just go around the world and conduct an independent investigation wherever it is happening.
'This is nothing specific to Libya. You wouldn’t be able to go into London or somewhere in Canada, where you think you think they would be cooperative and friendly, and just do whatever you want. It is just a fact of doing business outside the United States.'
The official added: 'You do the best you can. There are ways to address and mitigate some of the realities we face there to some degree. But the fact is that this is a fact of life of how different countries interact around the world.'