The State Department is on the cusp of publicly designating a former Guantanamo detainee, Sufian bin Qumu, and his group, Ansar Al-Sharia, as "foreign terrorist entities"over his alleged role in the Benghazi terror attack, Fox News has learned.
The designation, which restricts travel and allows the U.S. government to freeze financial assets, is expected to include three branches of Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya. The group’s name means “supporters of Islamic law.”
On Wednesday, the State Department tried to minimize the group’s connections to the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, often referred to as the “core.”
“There's no indication at this point that core Al Qaeda was involved or planned these attacks,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “And these are not official affiliates of Al Qaeda.”
The expected terrorist designation of bin Qumu and his group, first reported by the Washington Post, comes 16 months after Fox's Bret Baier first identified the Libyan as a suspect . The Post report also comes three months after Fox’s chief intelligence correspondent, Catherine Herridge, reported bin Qumu was in Benghazi on the day of the Sep. 11, 2012 attack and a former Usama bin Laden bodyguard and a courier were implicated in the assault that killed four Americans.
According to his Guantanamo file, the former detainee has historic ties to the Al Qaeda network, at one time training "...at Usama bin Laden's Torkham camp."
“Intelligence officials subsequently learned that his alias was on the laptop of the 9/11 financier,” Tom Joscelyn, a senior fellow with Foundation for Defense of Democracies who was among the first to write about bin Qumu, told Fox News.
“And bin Qumu was identified as an Al Qaeda member who was receiving a monthly stipend for his family, “ he said.
“He (bin Qumu) was important enough to Al Qaeda to record his monthly stipend on a 9/11 financier's laptop, which should tell you something about his place within the Al Qaeda sphere.”
Benghazi suspect Faraj Al Chalabi, a former bin Laden bodyguard, traveled from Libya to Pakistan after the attack, and Fox News is told investigators are exploring whether he hand -carried sensitive computer hardware.
Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, head of the House Intelligence Committee, would not discuss classified information but said the State Department seems to be disconnecting the dots.
“That's just simply inaccurate and, to say that these groups that have these connections to Al Qaeda in some way operating in Libya have no connection to Al Qaeda is wrong, and I argue it's naïve,” said Rogers, who has access to classified briefings and whose committee is investigating Benghazi.
“You have all of this body of evidence including some 4,000 classified cables leading up to the event ,during the event, after the event, that clearly identify Al Qaeda affiliates as being involved in the attacks.”
The terrorist designation would seem to further weaken the reporting of a New York Times investigation that concluded there was no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement.
A State Department survivor, an American eyewitness, recently told Senator Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., how the attack played out.
“He said there was no protest at all outside the consulate, that he was looking on his video screen, the security screen, a 16 to 20 person group ran through the gate, heavily armed, carrying an Islamic banner, that we later found out to be the banner of Ansar Al Sharia, the Al Qaeda affiliate in Benghazi, “ Graham said.
“So from his point of view, who was there, in real time, he never reported anything other than we're under attack. He described the attackers as heavily armed, that it was a coordinated terrorist attack with gun trucks around the compound. There was no protest. “
In addition, while the State Department investigation, known as the accountability review board, repeatedly has described the Benghazi operation as a temporary mission, Graham said the survivor told him that after an IED attack in June 2012, a new, one- year lease was renewed for two villas.
“Why did the accountability review board fail to find this out?” Graham asked. “Who is in charge at the State Department? What kind of operation are they running, where you will renew a lease on a compound that, according to the people in Libya, was a death trap?”
Fox News also learned that on Wednesday, at least five House members met with Speaker John Boehner, who has failed to agree to a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack. The members argued the public is losing faith in Congress' ability to investigate Benghazi -- and if a select committee is launched too close to the midterm elections, critics will deem it purely political.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.