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FBI ID’s Benghazi suspects – but no arrests yet

FILE - This Sept. 13, 2012 file photo shows a cameraman filming one of  U.S. consulate burnt out offices after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. has identified five men they believe might be behind the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists _ but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian criminal court, the process the Obama administration prefers, U.S. officials said. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon, File)

FILE - This Sept. 13, 2012 file photo shows a cameraman filming one of U.S. consulate burnt out offices after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. has identified five men they believe might be behind the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists _ but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian criminal court, the process the Obama administration prefers, U.S. officials said. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon, File)

The United States has identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists, officials said. But there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. But the investigation has been slowed by the reduced U.S. intelligence presence in the region since the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks, and by the limited ability to assist by Libya’s post-revolutionary law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which are still in their infancy since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and holding them at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The preference is toward a process in which most are apprehended and tried by the countries where they are living or arrested by the United Staters with the host country’s cooperation and tried in the U.S. criminal justice system. Using military force to detain the men might also harm fledgling relations with Libya and other post-Arab-Spring governments with whom the United States is trying to build partnerships to hunt al-Qaida as the organization expands throughout the region.

A senior administration official said the FBI has identified a number of individuals that it believes have information or may have been involved, and it is considering options to bring those responsible to justice. But taking action in remote eastern Libya would be difficult. America’s relationship with Libya would be weighed as part of those options, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the effort publicly.

The Libyan Embassy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Waiting to prosecute suspects instead of grabbing them now could add to the political weight the Benghazi case already carries. The attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Since then, Republicans in Congress have condemned the administration’s handling of the situation, criticizing the level of embassy security, questioning the talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her public appearances to explain the attack and suggesting the White House tried to play down the incident to minimize its effect on the president’s campaign.

The FBI released photos of three of the five suspects earlier this month, asking the public to provide more information on the men pictured. The images were captured by security cameras at the U.S. diplomatic post during the attack, but it took weeks for the FBI to see and study them.

The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies identified the men through contacts in Libya and by monitoring their communications.

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