US officials have implicated a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner in the 2012 attack on the US mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, The Washington Post reported.
Militiamen led by Abu Sufian bin Qumu, chief of extremist group Ansar al-Sharia in Derna city, took part in the attack that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, according to the daily.
It said US officials plan to designate three branches of the group as a foreign terrorism organization in Derna, Benghazi and Libya’s neighbor to the west Tunisia in the coming days.
Qumu and two others — militia leaders Ahmed Abu Khattala and Seif Allah bin Hassine — will also be identified as “specially designated global terrorists,” the Post said, citing US officials familiar with the plans.
The move aims to pressure the group and curtail support for terror activities, as it allows US authorities to freeze the group’s and the men’s financial assets and bars US citizens and companies from doing business with them.
Witnesses told US officials that Qumu’s men had made the hours-long drive to Benghazi from Derna before the September 11, 2012 attack, the Post said, though it is unclear whether they were there as part of a pre-planned attack.
US officials had sought to get a hold of Khattala in Benghazi, but dropped the plans out of fear that such a move by Americans could foment unrest and destabilize the Libyan government, the Post said.
Khattala has denied any role in the Benghazi raid.
According to the report, US officials are also trying to determine whether any of the people involved in the Benghazi assault were involved in the killing of American schoolteacher Ronnie Smith, who was gunned down while jogging in the restive city last month.
Qumu, 54, is a Libyan native from Derna who once served as a tank driver in the army.
He was imprisoned for 10 years in the country before escaping and fleeing to Egypt and later Afghanistan.
There, he trained in one of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s camps, according to US military files made public by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He later worked as a truck driver for a bin Laden company in Sudan.
Qumu fought alongside the Taliban following the US invasion that eventually toppled the movement in 2001. He then fled to Pakistan, where he was arrested in Peshawar.
Turned over to the United States, he was transferred to US naval base at Guantanamo in May 2002.
Qumu has a “long-term association with Islamic extremist jihad and members of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups,” the military files say.
“Detainee’s alias is found on a list of probable Al-Qaeda personnel receiving monthly stipends.”
Qumu was transferred to Libya in 2007 and subsequently released by the government.
The US military links him to key Al-Qaeda operator Abu Zubaydah, who is being held indefinitely at Guantanamo.