Fighters linked to one freed militant, Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, took part in the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, U.S. officials believe based on initial reports. Intelligence reports suggest that some of the attackers trained at camps he established in the Libyan Desert, a former U.S. official said.
Western officials say Mr. Ahmad has petitioned the chief of al Qaeda, to whom he has long ties, for permission to launch an al Qaeda affiliate and has secured financing from al Qaeda’s Yemeni wing. U.S. spy agencies have been tracking Mr. Ahmad’s activities for several months. The Benghazi attacks gave a major boost to his prominence in their eyes.
Mr. Ahmad, although believed to be one of the most potent of the new militant operatives emerging from the chaos of the Arab Spring, isn’t the only one, according to Western officials. They say others are also trying to exploit weaknesses in newly established governments and develop a capacity for strikes that could go well beyond recent violent protests in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. . . .
Of the new militant operatives, Mr. Ahmad is among the most worrisome to Western officials. Thought to be about 45, he is a native of Cairo’s Shobra district, a densely populated, low-income neighborhood along the Nile that includes many Coptic Christians, said Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank, who recently interviewed several of Mr. Ahmad’s associates in Egypt.
According to Mr. Barfi, Mr. Ahmad attended college, studying either literature or commerce, and went to Afghanistan in the late 1980s. There, said his associates, he trained to make bombs.
On returning to Egypt in the 1990s, a former U.S. official said, Mr. Ahmad became head of the operational wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a physician who is now the chief of al Qaeda . . .
Freed last year, Mr. Ahmad is building his own terror group, say Western officials, who call it the Jamal Network. They say he appears to be trying to tap former fellow inmates such as Murjan Salim, a man who, like Mr. Ahmad, has ties to al Qaeda’s Dr. Zawahiri. Former associates of Mr. Ahmad said Mr. Salim is directing aspiring jihadis to Mr. Ahmad’s camps in Libya.
Soon after the attack in Benghazi, Fox News reported than a terrorist released from Guantanamo Bay had been involved in the attacks, though that appears to have turned out not to be true. Assuming this report is, though, it’s an indication of a deeper problem: There are only so many terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, and the U.S. government gets to decide whether to release them or not. Not so the new governments in the Arab world, where governments have large numbers of Islamist militants to deal with, and contrary to U.S. security interests, the governments are eager to establish their democratic bona fides, win over popular sentiment, and assuage the restive Islamist groups that represent their most significant security and political threat. The Libyan government, for one, has put out all the right signals about seriously confronting terrorism, in a way the Egyptian government hasn’t, but besides the risk of high levels of national casualties from attacks or disappointing the U.S., the new governments’ incentives point toward taking these groups less seriously rather than more.
A final point: While this story doesn’t appear to be politically motivated, the information revealed here is a significant intelligence leak, which has become a troubling pattern in the Obama administration.