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Senator: Al Qaeda members emerge as 'leaders of the pack' in Benghazi

 

Several Al Qaeda members emerged as “leaders of the pack” in last year’s Benghazi attack, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News following release of a bipartisan report blowing apart claims the assault was the work of local extremists with no formal terrorist connections.

The former Guantanamo detainee Sufian bin Qumu, first identified by Fox's Bret Baier as a suspect 16 months ago, at the very least helped lay the groundwork for the operation.

"Certainly Qumu was involved in planning in this...he is a member of a group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda so in my mind that makes him Al Qaeda," said Chambliss, R-Ga.

The report, which took 16 months to complete, has teeth because the findings were agreed to by both Republican and Democrats on the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. 

It concludes that the Benghazi attackers came from two official Al Qaeda affiliates, bin Qumu's Ansar al-Sharia, and a fourth group, the Jamal network, whose leader is connected to the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.  

"Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups including AQIM, Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP and the Mohammad Jamal Network participated in the September 11, 2012 attacks,” the report said.

The committee sought a State Department classified cable, first reported by Fox News, that summarized an emergency meeting in Benghazi one month before the attack warning that Al Qaeda training camps were operating, and the consulate could not sustain a coordinated assault.

"They resisted for a long time in providing it to us, but at the end of the day, we did secure the cable," Chambliss said.

Chambliss said that was part of a pattern – in which the State Department continues to block access to witnesses and documents. He said the committee also wanted to know whether a White House meeting on the day of the assault – believed to include then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta,Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the vice president and, briefly, President Obama - set the marching orders for explaining the attack.

"We'd been stonewalled on that question.  We've asked time and again who was in the meeting and what was the substance of that meeting and we have not gotten answers on that," Chambliss said.

The administration continues to hang its hat on a very narrow definition of Al Qaeda that encompasses the leadership in Pakistan -- known as the "core."

"We still have no indications that core Al Qaeda was involved in directing or planning this attack," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.  "And I think you're generalizing a little bit about the warnings."

There were seven reports from the CIA and defense intelligence agency between June 12 and September 7, 2012 about the growing cooperation between Al Qaeda's regional affiliates and terrorists on the ground in Libya. 

While the CIA ramped up security, the State Department did not. Republicans and Democrats on the committee agreed the attack could have been prevented and four Americans -- Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty -- would still be alive today.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who leads the committee, said she hopes the report will put to rest the conspiracy theories and political accusations.

 White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the findings reinforce what other investigations have found, but Carney failed to address one of the most significant findings: that Benghazi was an Al Qaeda-led event.

 

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.