Why Did Al-Qaeda Target Ambassador Stevens?
Most of the questions related to the Benghazi debacle are about the mechanics, both offensive and defensive. What did the White House know and when? What assets were available to the military? Did someone order a stand down, and if so, who? Why was “the video” blamed long after the administration knew the truth -- and didn’t the administration know the truth from the beginning? If it didn’t, why didn’t it?
All reasonable questions, but a generally unasked one deserves attention: “Why did al-Qaeda want to kill Ambassador Chris Stevens?”
The ambassador had good relations with some of the most extreme Libyan militias, including those with al-Qaeda ties. Did he upset them with something he did, or didn’t do? Was the White House fully apprised of his connections and dealings with the militias? Was he killed because of something the administration told him to start doing or to stop doing?
There are things we know and things upon which we must speculate, including the entry of surface-to-air missiles to the Levant.
Emerging from the chaos is a dim understanding that the U.S. was operating a clandestine arms operation from the CIA post that was loosely -- and incorrectly -- described as a “consulate.” Before and during the revolution, Ambassador Stevens had helped arm the anti-Gaddafi militias, including the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIF), whose leader Abdulhakim Belhadj later became the head of the Tripoli Military Council.
The LIF’s Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi told an Italian newspaper in 2011 (later reported in the British Telegraph) that he had fought the “foreign invasion” in Afghanistan. Captured in Pakistan, al-Hasidi was handed over to the U.S. and returned to Libya, where he was released from prison in 2008. Speaking of the Libyan revolution, he said:
Members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader.
Belhadj met with Free Syrian Army representatives in October 2011 to offer Libyan support for ousting Assad. Throughout 2011 and 2012, ships traversed the Mediterranean from Benghazi to Syria and Lebanon with arms for the Syrian rebels. Turkish and Jordanian intelligence services were doing most of the “vetting” of rebel groups; in July 2010, the Washington Post reported that the CIA had no operatives on the ground and only a few at border posts even as weapons were entering Syria. Said a U.S. official, addressing the question of even non-lethal aid:
We’ve got to figure out who is over there first, and we don’t really know that.
In August, a report by Tony Cartalucci, a supporter of the Syrian nationalist opposition, detailed the extent of Libyan and al-Qaeda involvement in Syria, calling it a "foreign invasion." In November, the Washington Post noted a $20 million contribution by the Libyan government to the Syrian National Council -- of which the Muslim Brotherhood is a member.
Ambassador Stevens would have known all of that; he was the go-to man. He didn’t seem to have a problem with it, so why did they want to kill him?