Tag: embassies

Abu Sufian bin Qumu – A Familiar Fighter

In testimony before the US Senate on September 19th, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen described the September 12th assault on the US Consulate as a “terrorist attack.” Although it remains to be seen if the Libyan Ansar al-Sharia (aka Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi aka ASB) is responsible, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, has been cited as the leader of the organization by several outlets and analysts.

Beyond his Guantanamo file, we see that Bin Qumu is a familiar fighter — from the Libyan Army in the 80′s to Afghanistan and Sudan in the 90′s, back to Libya, to Afghanistan, and finally back to eastern Libya. Looking at this more recent history, particularly after the release from Guantanamo Bay, bin Qumu has been the focus of periodic press attention for his role as a returned fighter.

Recent Timeline for bin Qumu

In April 2011, the New York Times reported that bin Qumu had been fighting to overthrow Qaddafi, ostensibly with American support. A little over a year later, in a June 2012 profile, the paper describes his leadership of a militia in eastern Libya as an alternative vision for the country.

The network of people, places, and organizations surrounding bin Qumu narrows the universe of known players and provides an overview of what is reported about his connections:

Network Map of bin Qumu – Last 24 Months

The network map is a clear visualization of bin Qumu’s story, from foreign Taliban fighter in Afghanistan to Guantanamo detainee to returned rebel in a tumultuous takedown of Gaddhafi to a militia leader with mysterious allegiances, and now, potential opportunistic terrorist.

Aliases and various spellings abound for Abu Sufian bin Qumu: Abu Suffiyan, Abu Sufian bin Qumu, Sofiane Ibrahim Gammu, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Hamuda bin Qumu. Recorded Future’s watchlist capability enables an analyst to quickly assemble and maintain a searchable list of aliases:

Building a Watchlist of Aliases

It is as yet unclear to what at extent — if at all — bin Qumu is involved with the attack, but in the coming days, he will continue to garner attention. With the open source corpus outlining his travels, statements, and actions, an analyst can quickly assemble a history, profile, and alias list to recognize novel information and to place into the context of extant knowledge.


Did Killings of AQAP Operatives Precipitate Attacks on Embassies?

[Correction (September 13, 2012, 11:57am): It has been noted that there are two organizations named Ansar al-Sharia -- one is an arm of Al Qaeda in Yemen and the other is active in Benghazi. The Daily Beast has a thorough post disambiguating the two.]

As more details continue to emerge about the attacks on US embassies, one might wonder that if these strikes were planned, could they have been foreseen? Moreover, until a group takes responsibility, is it possible to identify potential attackers and leading indicators?

Analysis using Recorded Future indicates that attacks on embassies could be direct retaliation for American drone assassinations of Al Qaeda leadership. Although the attackers may not have targeted the US ambassador directly, use of the protests created a chaotic circumstance that lent itself to vulnerabilities and unpredictability in diplomatic protection.

Evaluating Potential Attackers

Some media reports have identified the perpetrators of the attack on the embassy in Benghazi as members of Ansar al-Sharia (جماعة أنصار الشريعة‎ in Arabic), an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), mostly active in Yemen but has been operating in Libya recently. Here is a timeline of the past 12 months of Ansar al-Sharia:

Ansar Al-Sharia Timeline – Last 12 Months

Though much of the discussion about Ansar al-Sharia centers around Yemen, a connection emerges between US actions in Yemen to activity in Libya. On Monday, a US drone strike killed a senior AQAP leader in Yemen, Saad al-Shihri. In digging into this organization a bit more, there are strong linkages in the data between the Al Qaeda offshoot, its presence stretches beyond Yemen.

Network Map of Ansar al-Sharia

In using Recorded Future to quickly review the past several months of attacks in Benghazi, one event pops out: three months ago, CNN featured a story about an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, with another organization, Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rehman Brigades, taking credit:

CNN Story on June 2012 Attack on Benghazi Embassy

As mentioned in the story, this group attacked the US embassy on the urging of Ayman al-Zawahiri, in retaliation for the killing of Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s deputy commander in Libya. Furthermore, there was a significant political moment expected on September 12, 2012: Libya was holding a runoff election for prime minster. Disrupting this election could be a possible or additional motive of the attackers.

Though it is unclear if the attack on the embassy in Benghazi on September 11th is connected to the previous assault in June, it is difficult not to discern a pattern: both attacks happened after the assassination of an AQAP leader. Instead of retaliating in Yemen, however, where the targets had been hardened, perhaps the perpetrators determined it was easier to access American diplomats at softer targets in an ungoverned space such as Benghazi.

Emergence of An Al Qaeda Leader

Whichever group is responsible — and whether they eventually claim credit or not — it is clear that Al Qaeda had developed a strategy for building a foundation in Libya. In mapping AQ in Libya, a militant commander, Abdulbasit Azuz, appears as a key player:

Al Qaeda & Libya Network Map

The timeline of Azuz’s history shows that he was dispatched by al-Zawahiri from Pakistan to Libya in 2011 — and has been active for decades:

Azuz Historical Timeline

 

Conclusion

While we cannot definitely conclude that the attacks in Benghazi were planned, they were certainly preceded by previous attempts — and with two suspected organizations; it is difficult to ignore the cover provided by coinciding timing of protests in Cairo and political importance of de-stabilizing a nascent Libyan government. Either way, it is reasonable to expect increased drone activity in Yemen and Libya in attempt to thwart Al Qaeda’s operations.

We will continue to track these developments over the coming days and weeks.


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