Sources: 3 al Qaeda operatives took part in Benghazi attack

Updated 9:23 AM EDT, Sat May 4, 2013
02:55 - Source: CNN
Sources: Al Qaeda helped in Benghazi

Story highlights

"Three or four members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," took part, one source says

Western intelligence services suspect they may have been sent to carry out the attack

They were later traced to northern Mali, where the trail appears to have gone cold

CNN —  

Several Yemeni men belonging to al Qaeda took part in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, according to several sources who have spoken with CNN.

One senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN that “three or four members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” or AQAP, took part in the attack.

Another source briefed on the Benghazi investigation said Western intelligence services suspect the men may have been sent by the group specifically to carry out the attack. But it’s not been ruled out that they were already in the city and participated as the opportunity arose.

The attack on the compound and subsequently on a “safe-house” to which Americans had been evacuated left four U.S. citizens dead, including the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

If the AQAP members were dispatched to Benghazi, it would be further evidence of a new level of co-operation among jihadist groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa, counterterrorism analysts say.

According to one source, counterterrorism officials learned the identity of the men and established they had spent two nights in Benghazi after the attack. Western intelligence agencies began trying to track the men in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, but were always behind in their manhunt.

They were later traced to northern Mali, where they are believed to have connected with a fighting group commanded by Moktar Belmoktar, a prominent jihadist leader, according to a senior law enforcement source.

The trail appears to have then gone cold. In early 2013, jihadists were driven out of many areas of northern Mali in a French-led offensive.

Another source briefed on the investigation had previously told CNN that Belmoktar had received a call in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack from someone in or close to the city. Whoever made the call was excited.