A suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi has been detained in Libya, according to multiple press outlets. CNN reports that, according to one source, Faraj al Chalabi (or al Shibli) “was detained within the past two days and had recently returned from a trip to Pakistan.” Reuters reports that al Chalabi “fled to Pakistan after the attacks and only recently returned to Libya.”
Both CNN and Reuters note that the precise role al Chalabi is suspected of playing in the Benghazi attack is “unclear.”
Al Chalabi was first fingered as a suspected terrorist in 1998. At the time, Muammar Qaddafi’s regime said that he was involved in the murder of two Germans, an intelligence official named Silvan Becker and his wife. The German couple had been killed under mysterious circumstances in 1994.
The Libyan regime’s intelligence led to an Interpol arrest warrant in March 1998. In addition to al Chalabi, two other Libyans and Osama bin Laden were named as the alleged perpetrators of the attack. The Libyans were accused of being members of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).
In June 2004, the Libyan government reiterated its allegations against al Chalabi, his fellow Libyans, and bin Laden in a filing with the United Nations Security Council. “It is worth noting that the elements that carried out that act and Osama bin Laden’s arrangements are still wanted and that their organizational connection to the Al Qaeda organization has been confirmed,” Qaddafi’s regime claimed. Al Chalabi was specifically listed as one of the suspected terrorists tied to al Qaeda.
According to some accounts, the Libyan regime’s claims were not taken all that seriously at first. Perhaps this was because of Qaddafi’s own prolific role in sponsoring terrorism and his ruthless suppression of the opposition.
CNN notes that “some analysts have cast doubt on the [Qaddafi] regime’s assertion that Libyan Islamist Fighting Group members carried out the attack on the German couple.”
In late 2001, however, the German press linked al Qaeda to the murder of Becker and his wife. According to those accounts, the FBI itself discovered the link after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Citing a report by Focus, a German weekly news magazine, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported in October 2001 that the FBI “had come across the bin Laden links to the murder of the two Germans…in the course of its probe into the September 11 assault on the United States.” AFP continued: “The magazine said that one of the chief suspects in the case belonged to a bin Laden terrorist cell and was involved in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which US authorities have linked to bin Laden’s al Qaeda movement.”
The FBI reportedly gave the details of al Qaeda’s involvement to German authorities.
In November 2001, the German newspaper Die Welt followed up with its own brief account of al Qaeda’s ties to the attack. The account was headlined, “Bin Laden allegedly implicated in murder of German agent.” Germany’s criminal investigators had no further information at the time, Die Welt reported, but this “may be related to the fact that this mystery has an intelligence services context.”
Die Welt also cited the FBI as the source of information on one of the suspects, who was purportedly tied to the 1998 embassy bombings.
The FBI is leading the investigation into the Benghazi attack. If the German accounts from 2001 are accurate, then the Bureau may already have a dossier on al Chalabi.
In his 2002 book, Inside Al Qaeda, Rohan Gunaratna reported that Becker’s death hampered Germany’s efforts to track bin Laden’s operatives.
“According to the German secret service,” Gunaratna wrote, “Becker was their Arabist and his untimely death gravely affected Germany’s ability to effectively monitor the growing Al Qaeda infrastructure in Germany.”