Mohamed Niss

Mohamed Niss

Still on the Loose: Libya’s Most Dangerous Jihadists - Part II
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

More violence?

Tripoli Braces for Hurricane Igtet
More violence?
Debris in U.S. consulate in Benghazi- Ibrahim al-Agouri, AP

The anti-Muslim Youtube video cited by Hillary Clinton as motivation for the targeting of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi had nothing to do with the murderous attack which claimed the lives of 4 Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, The Libya Times can reveal.  

A new evidence obtained and translated by The Libya Times not only confirmed that the attack was premeditated, but it explains in detail how the then-top three leaders of Ansar al-Sharia oversaw the preparations and chose a date for the attack.

A video released by the Crime Combating Department, a security force from the western city of Misrata, showed a prominent Jihadist from Benghazi admitting his involvement in the attack. The video opens with the man introducing himself as Ahmed Hassan al-Sharif Mohammed al-Msheity - a well-known jihadist from Benghazi - before recounting his history with various extremist groups such as Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade, Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State to which he declared allegiance in 2014 while fighting the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi. He said that the Islamic State and ‘the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council’ were fighting alongside each other in Benghazi’s Sabri and Souq al-Hout districts. The BRSC is an umbrella group made up of Islamist militias including Ansar al-Sharia.

In the last 3 minutes of the 17-minute video, he explained how the attack came about and his role in it. “The attack on the American Embassy was coordinated by the leaders of Ansar al-Sharia… there was Fawzi al-Fayedi and Mohammed al-Zahawi. These were the leaders of Ansar al-Sharia and it was them who planned it. Then we have all met at the Quwarsha checkpoint which you can say it was the regrouping point. The plan was that we storm the American Embassy,” revealed Mr Msheity.

The website Factcheck.Org documented how Ms Clinton waited until 21 September to refer to the attack as an act of terrorism despite multiple confirmations from Libyan and U.S. security officials. Mr Msheity’s account confirms that the attack was planned as part of a wider, strategic campaign by Ansar al-Sharia to consolidate its control over Benghazi. The campaign included hundreds of assassinations against the city’s military and security personnel as well as activists, journalists, foreign diplomatic missions and even NGOs like the ICRC.

“What is the reason for the decision to storm the American Embassy? Well, you can say that they [leaders of Ansar al-Shariah] said that they [the occupants of the Embassy’s building] are recording our coordinates so they could hit us by airstrikes. They feared that they [occupants of Embassy’s building] are CIA and that they were planning to target us,” Mr Msheity explained. What he says here is in line with what Ahmed Abu Khattala himself said to a British journalist who interviewed him in October 2013: “Clearly of fundamentalist views, the only time his voice ever rises is to denounce American foreign policy and claim that as the US consulate was “an illegal intelligence centre”, rather than part of an authorised diplomatic mission, the attack upon it could be justified accordingly. “The people dealt with it as a criminal case rather than as a political one,” he says.”

Mr Msheity goes on to list those who masterminded the attack: “The coordinators were Mohammed al-Zahawi, the emir of Ansar al-Sharia, Fawzi al-Fayedi, from Ansar al-Sharia, and Ahmed Abu Khattalah. These three were in charge of coordinating the attack against the Embassy. They have met together, planned the storming of the Embassy and chose the date for the attack”.

He then went on to recount the events that transpired on the day of the attack: “They have gathered us and we have been summoned by them at the Quwarsha checkpoint. I came to the HQ of Ansar [al-Sharia] and found out that the news has already spread about Ansar al-Sharia’s plan to attack the Embassy, but it was still unclear at that point when the attack will take place. Then they told me the date of the attack. [Accordingly,] I reported to the Quwarsha checkpoint with a group and we had armed vehicles with us, Toyotas, to be used in the attack against the Embassy.

“There was no shootout. The group which was guarding the Embassy had withdrawn. It belonged to ‘Zawya Martyrs’ [Battalion]’.  I’m not sure, God knows if the withdrawal was part of the plan. What’s important is that they have withdrawn without any shootouts.”

He then admitted his role in the attack: “As for me, I was deployed to an unpaved street parallel to the Embassy’s street. I was manning a Toyota truck equipped with a 14.5 anti-aircraft gun. My assignment was to close the [Embassy’s] street to prevent people from entering it. In the meantime the Ansar attacked the Embassy and set it ablaze. There was also the group of Hamed Belkhayr which has participated as well as regular people who entered the building. They took the stuff out of the building after setting the whole Embassy on fire.”

Mr Msheity was among four Jihadis arrested in Misrata while receiving medical treatment from wounds sustained in clashes with LNA in Benghazi. The other three are: Khalid Sweidan al-Msheity – his uncle, Ahmed al-Hami and Abdulbasset al-Awwami.

Msheity in Misrata hospital
Msheity in Benghazi
Msheity in Benghazi

The group which was designated as terrorist by the U.N., the U.S. and the U.K, dealt a series of major blows that led to its demise on 27 May 2017 when it announced its own dissolution.

Its decline was triggered by the apprehension of Ahmed Abu Khattala who was snatched from his home in Benghazi by a US commando unit on 15 June 2014. He is now awaiting trial later this month on charges that may include plotting to kill Christopher Stevens’s successor.

Ahmed Abu Khattala
Mohammed al-Zahawi
Fawzi al-Fayedi

Fawzi Al-Fayedi, the terror group’s military commander, was killed on 13 January 2017 by an LNA airstrike on BRSC positions in Benghazi’s western suburb of Abu Snaib.

Mohammed Al-Zahawi was killed by an LNA airstrike in December 2014, but Ansar al-Sharia waited until 21 January 2015 to announce his death. He was replaced by Nasser al-Tashani (aka Abu Khalid al-Madani) who died on 7 July 2017 from wounds sustained in an LNA airstrike in Benghazi’s Ganfoudah suburb.