Magharebia (Washington DC)

2 January 2013

Libya: Key Benghazi Suspect Remains At Large

Casablanca — Although Ahmed Boukhtala is the main suspect in the September 11th terrorist attack on US consulate in Benghazi as well as a suspect in assassination of Libyan rebel commander Major General Abdelfattah Younis, he continues to live freely in Benghazi.

Conflicting reports have claimed that Boukhtala was imprisoned while others have said he escaped from prison and is now a fugitive. However, sources in Benghazi told Magharebia that Boukhtala remains at large and that the Libyan authorities have not arrested him.

"Boukhtala is not detained, and no official charges were made against him," political activist Samir al-Jahani told Magharebia. "However, there are many suspicions around him."

Al-Jahani believes that the government is trying as much as it can to avoid charges and clashes with extremist groups at this stage.

"Boukhtala belongs to an extremist group, and he is still followed by some gunmen. However, he no longer has his own militias since his Abu Obeida Bin al-Jarrah brigade was disbanded," al-Jahani added.

He also noted that 41-year-old Boukhtala is a regular person without any qualifications in Sharia sciences. "Some call him sheikh only because of his long beard and because he was the commander of Abi Obeida Bin al-Jarrah brigade during the revolution," he added.

In a December 19th interview with Libya's Quryna, Boukhtala vaguely responded to charges that he was behind the attack on the US consulate, which left the US ambassador and three other Americans dead.

He neither denied nor confirmed his responsibility for the terrorist attack. Instead, he tried to justify the assault by claiming that the place that was targeted was not a consulate but a security facility belonging to the consulate.

As part of his response to a question about the attack on the US consulate, Boukhtala said, "Let's first ask about the reason for their presence in Benghazi in this suspicious and secret way. The other thing is: what is the nature of work they were doing in Benghazi? What was the role that the consulate was playing and who gave it permission to violate Libya's sovereignty and intervene in Libyan politics?"

As to the July 2011 assassination of Maj. Gen. Younis, Boukhtala said that he was accused of the murder because he brought the general from the Brega front to Benghazi and because the assassination took place at the headquarters of his Abu Obeida Bin al-Jarrah brigade.

He claimed that the general was killed by infiltrators during a "breach", adding that it happened without his knowledge.

Boukhtala also used the Quryna interview to push his extremist agenda, saying that Libyans who oppose the application of Sharia are non-Muslims.

"Most Libyans are Muslims only in national IDs and because there are no other religions in Libya," he stated.

He went on to defend the continued presence of armed brigades and said that the General National Congress and its government were "only a re-embodiment of Kadhafi's government". He also said that "reinstating police and army is the best proof that the new government is the same old government".

Boukhtala has also been linked to Benghazi's Ansar al-Sharia group. In an October interview with the New York Times, he denied being an official member of the radical brigade but praised the Islamist group's members as "good people with good goals".

In the same interview, he said that he opposed democracy as contrary to Islamic law and called those who supported constitutions "apostates".

Boukhtala took part in the revolution like many other extremists, according to Benghazi-based journalist Hamed al-Mansouri.

"However, after the revolution, they wanted to impose their opinions on Libyans using arms and this not acceptable," he added. "The fact that they are a small minority is the factor that makes them cling to arms and militias as an only means to impose their own opinions."

As to why the authorities have not arrested the radicals despite the charges made against them, al-Mansouri said that the extremists were "fortified behind heavily-armed groups".

"It's enough to see what's recently happened in Benghazi because of the arrest of an extremist suspected in the assassination of security chief Faraj al-Drissi in an armed attack on the security directorate and criminal investigation department to free him, and the seven-day bloody confrontations with the police," al-Mansouri said.

Activist Nadia al-Ayoubi pointed to the continued presence of armed militias as a reason for "the systematic assassination of security officials in Libya".

"Most senior security officials are now assassinated the following day after they are appointed." al-Ayoubi said. "In their propaganda, they claim to be killing those who served with the former regime," she added.

"However, does Sharia include the liquidation of people using savage, illegal ways only because they were serving the former regime?" she asked. "What is the role of judiciary and law enforcement authorities in this case?"

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