The New York Times front-page headline on December 29 read, “Insults to Islam Fed Benghazi Attack – No Qaeda Link Seen.” The rambling article was intended to defend the administration. Instead, it has succeeded in reopening the Benghazi affair. Why is the administration allowing the murderer of an American ambassador to walk free, 16 months after the attack?
The article identified Islamic militia leader Abu Khattala as the ringleader in the attack. Not one sentence in the article explained why the administration allows Khattala to strut freely around Benghazi today. President Obama authorizes drone strikes to kill dozens of Islamists each year. Why is Khattala off-limits? That is the real story.
The article points out that Khattala is a second-tier Islamist, as if that is reason enough to ignore him. He met with al-Qaeda central-type operatives in Benghazi only after the 10 p.m. attack on the legation (but before the 5 a.m. attack against the CIA annex). He is not a top-level enemy and marches to his own murderous drum.
But how many degrees of separation did the NYT count before concluding, “No Qaeda Link Seen?” As extreme, violent Islam has migrated across North Africa, it has attracted many diverse and loosely affiliated militias and gangs. Most seek local or regional power, but are not (yet) a threat to direct American interests. It is up to the administration to decide how to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. We are doing this by strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Why is Khattala a subject of interest to the New York Times, but not an object to be dealt with by the CIA?