Hanging over the investigation into the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is a fear of reprisals from extremist militiamen.
BENGHAZI, Libya — Libya’s investigation into the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi appears in limbo. More than two months after the attack, key security commanders and witnesses say they were never questioned. No suspects have been named, and gunmen seen participating in the assault walk freely in the eastern Libyan city.
Hanging over the investigation is a fear of reprisals from extremist militiamen. Farag al-Fazani, a commander of a Libyan security force commissioned to protect the U.S. post at the time of the Sept. 11 assault, says he sees militants he recognizes from that chaotic night.
They recognize him, too.
“I get death threats by phone (saying): ‘You are an infidel and spilling your blood is permitted,’ ” said al-Fazani. “No one can protect me. I see them and they know me.”
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The dangers are clear. On Wednesday, the head of one of the city’s security agencies, National Security Chief Col. Farag el-Dersi, was shot to death by three attackers as he headed home from work.
It was the latest in a string of killings of officials; there is no word on who is behind the slayings, though there is no indication they are connected to the investigation.
U.S. and Libyan leaders have sworn to hunt down those who carried out the Sept. 11 attack, in which gunmen blasted into the consulate compound after nightfall.
Four Americans were killed in fighting linked to the initial assault, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. Most officials and witnesses have blamed fighters from Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamic extremist militia in the city.
But much remains unexplained, including what was the attack’s motive, why did Libyan security pull back from the consulate and what time the attacks started, much less the bigger questions of whether outside terrorist groups such as al-Qaida had a hand.
The FBI, which sent a team to Tripoli immediately after the attack to work with Libyan investigators, has said nothing about its findings. At FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., spokesman Michael Kortan on Wednesday declined to comment on the Libyans’ conduct of the probe.
From the Libyan side, there has been little sign of an investigation.
Numerous senior security officials in the city knew nothing about the investigation, and none said they had been questioned.
The commander who oversaw the security forces’ reaction during the attack said he sent a report to the ruling General National Congress but received no feedback and had not been contacted.
“We were surprised that we were not summoned. … Very strange,” said the commander, Abdel-Salam al-Barghathi.
Several witnesses reported seeing an Islamic militant commander, Ahmed Abu Khattala, help direct the attack. Abu Khattala denies involvement but says he was at the scene to help rescue men trapped in the consulate. He has not been questioned.
“No one from Ansar al-Shariah has been summoned, or even told they are wanted,” Abu Khattala said. He is a frequent visitor at Benghazi’s el-Fadheel hotel, which is owned by Adel Galgoul, the owner of a safe house to which staffers from the consulate were evacuated during the attack, only to be hit by mortars that led to two of the American deaths.
Al-Fazani, the protection-force commander, said Ansar al-Shariah carried out the consulate attack, led by Abu Khattala. “They divided themselves into two groups, one stormed the place and the second gave protection and supply,” he said.
Al-Fazani said he was told to go to Tripoli to speak to U.S. investigators, but he was too afraid to do so.
An investigation commission created by the National Congress to work with the FBI is largely based in Tripoli, 400 miles from Benghazi.
It has faced personnel problems. Initially it was led by a judge in Benghazi, but he stepped down after two weeks, according to the head of the Benghazi Cassation court, Fatma al-Baraghathi, who appointed him.
He was replaced by a judge in Tripoli, but al-Baraghathi said it was not clear if he had started work. The commission also includes the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Division and Libyan intelligence.
Deputy Interior Minister Omar al-Khadrawi insisted the investigation was “going well” but could not say when it would be completed.