FBI investigators have finally been able to search the site in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and other US personnel were killed last month.
Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum, who himself gained access to the American diplomatic compound where the attack took place.
We also hear from Financial Times correspondent Borzou Daragahi about the the militant group Ansar al-Sharia suspected of being behind the attack.
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Marco Werman: Hi, I’m Marco Werman. This is The World. It took three weeks but FBI investigators finally made it to the crime scene in Benghazi, Libya where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed last month. President Obama has promised to bring those responsible to justice. The inquiry, though, has been hampered by security concerns. In a moment we’ll hear more on the Islamist militant group suspected of being behind the attacks. First we turn to Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum in Benghazi. He says the FBI team didn’t stay long in the city.
Michael Birnbaum: Well, they were here for less than 24 hours. They were here for about four and a half hours. I’d have to imagine they weren’t able to do much at the crime scene. I’m told by Libyan Interior Ministry officials that they stopped by the US mission compound for just over an hour, running through it, basically, taking a look and collecting some evidence but not doing much. And after they visited that they went to a local market that’s called the [xx] market. It’s known for its cheap wares and stolen merchandise, so it sounds as though they were looking to see if any equipment or materials from the US compound had turned up there. But they came in at 2 pm according to the Libyans, and left at 6:30 pm, so they really were not here long.
Werman: But this is a crime scene. Four Americans in the diplomatic service were killed, a major fire, storming of the mission there. Who is investigating it?
Birnbaum: There is a Libyan government investigation, but I’ve talked to many, many witnesses who said they haven’t been contacted either by the Americans or by Libyans. And the crime scene itself at the US mission remains today unguarded. I just drove by it, in fact, an hour ago to take a look and there was nobody there.
Werman: Are there any theories at this point as to how Ambassador Chris Stevens was left alone at the mission with so little security?
Birnbaum: It looks as though, from documents that I found earlier in the week at the compound, that the Americans at the mission, the security office there, they were in the middle of working out some revised arrangement with the Libyan militia that had been providing the compound with security since the revolution last year. But they didn’t have a large presence there. They had three armed guards and there were a couple of unarmed contractors, several of whom had told me that they had shared security concerns with the Americans that very day, September 11. From all accounts, Ambassador Chris Stevens was tremendously comfortable in Benghazi, maybe too comfortable. He spent a lot of time here during the revolution, he had lots of friends, and judging by his actions in the days leading up to the attack, he truly felt at home in this city. I think it sounds as though he had a false sense of security in Benghazi.
Werman: Washington Post reporter Michael Birnbaum there speaking with us from Benghazi. US officials suspect the attack against US diplomats there was carried out by a militant group called Ansar al-Sharia. Financial Times correspondent Borzou Daragahi has been investigating the group.
Borzou Daragahi: These are hard line [xx] Islamists. That means they belong to a school of Islamic thought that believes that Muslims should live as the prophet Mohammed and his companions lived in the 7th century. And they also are, I guess, what you would describe as jihadis. They believe in militant jihad, they are very hard line in their outlook. I spoke to one associate of the group who actually said that even Libyans who don’t subscribe to his school of Islam must be forced to abide by the type of Islam he and his followers espouse because that’s the way it is in the Quran, and if they don’t like it they can live in another country
Werman: What’s their relationship to the Arab spring? Did they exist before the uprising in Libya or are they a product of it?
Daragahi: They did not. They did not exist before the uprising in Libya, although many of their members took part in the fight against Muamar Gaddafi last year. They formed quite a bit after the uprising as a way of promoting a certain brand of politics. They wouldn’t see it that way. They see themselves as warriors in a good fight, sort of a continuum that started with the revolution.
Werman: Tell us about what’s happened to the group since all these demonstrations in Benghazi against the so-called anti-Islamist video. They seem to have disbanded, right?
Daragahi: They actually voluntarily disbanded. Very angry, very bitter about what happened, the feeling that they’ve been scapegoated, and they’ve gone underground. They’ve taken their weapons, that included the standard issue Kalashnikov that every Libyan seems to have, as well as more medium and heavy weapons and they’ve disappeared with them. Authorities in Libya are quite worried right now because these guys were hard-core, they were quite scary, but at least before this wave of protests against the Islamists a couple weeks ago, people were keeping an eye on them. And now no one’s quite sure what happened to them and what they’re plotting.
Werman: Does the government have a strategy on what to do now?
Daragahi: You know, Marco, when you talk about Libya right now, the word government is a very loose term. They don’t even have a government, much less a strategy. The country, thanks to Gaddafi in large part, does not have any real institutions. Law enforcement is not in Libya the way that we would think of law enforcement. For four decades it served no one other than Muamar Gaddafi. When they talk about internal security, what they meant was protecting Muamar Gaddafi from internal threats. When they talked about external security, it was about protecting Moammar Gadhafi from foreign threats. So now they’re building these institutions from scratch, and a lot of the people who are leading this effort are civilians who have no experience in terms of tracking and monitoring these types of groups.
Werman: Borzou Daragahi, Middle East correspondent for Financial Times.
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