Tunisia's state news agency reported that Mr. Benahssine, aka Abou Iyadh, had been captured by US and Libyan forces. But the Obama administration quickly denied any involvement in the capture.
"Contrary to media reports, US forces were not involved in any operations involving Ansar al-Sharia leader Abou Iyadh today in Libya," the US embassy in Tunis said on its Facebook page on Monday, the very same day that Mr. Iyadh was arrested. "We refer you to the Libyan authorities for any additional questions." A Pentagon spokesman issued a similar statement.
According to a UN report, Abou Iyadh - the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia - previously founded the terrorist group, the Tunisian Combatant Group, "in coordination with Al-Qaida".
From the UN report:
The Tunisian Combatant Group was listed on 10 October 2002 as being associated with Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden or the Taliban for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf or in support of” and “recruiting for” Usama bin Laden, Al-Qaida and the Organization of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.The presence of Al Qaeda in Libya is not a new phenomenon; a whole host of Al Qaeda operatives have streamed into Libya ever since the Obama administration helped overthrow the previous Libyan regime. A number of these al Qaeda operatives were behind the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans. However, the Obama administration's quick denial of any involvement in the recent raid in Libya that resulted in the capture of Abou Iyadh, is, nevertheless interesting - although this too is not a new phenomenon.
The Tunisian Combatant Group was created in 2000 by Seifallah ben Hassine and Tarek Maaroufi, in coordination with Al-Qaida. Seifallah ben Hassine was imprisoned in Tunisia after being captured in Turkey in 2003 for being a leader of an Al-Qaida-affiliated organization. The strategy of the Tunisian Combatant Group was set during a meeting in Khost, Afghanistan, during which it declared its determination to support Usama bin Laden.
The Tunisian Combatant Group has organized recruitment of volunteers for training in Al-Qaida-related camps in Afghanistan. Most of the members of this group trained in Afghanistan before returning to Europe.
The Tunisian Combatant Group had links with the two Tunisian attackers that killed Ahmad Shah Massoud, an anti-Taliban leader in Afghanistan, in September 2001. Members of the Tunisian Combatant Group have also given logistical support to Algerians belonging to the Organization of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb...
The Tunisian Combatant Group coordinates with a number of other listed entities in the Maghreb, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group and the Organization of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
The Obama administration, in the past, has openly expressed a reluctance to hunt down militants in Libya, including those responsible for the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, for fear that such operations might not sit well with officials in the Libyan government, who fear that allowing such operations in Libya might destabilize, and bring down their fragile government - a government, which just happens to be riddled with terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.
The same phenomenon still holds true today: The Obama administration does not want to stir up any bad feelings with the Libyan government. More importantly, the Obama administration does not want to stir up any bad feelings with the terrorist groups operating inside Libya that are not only wreaking havoc and destruction upon the country but are also pulling some of the strings inside the Libyan government. Hence, the administration's rapid and urgent denial of any involvement in the recent raid in Libya to capture Abou Iyadh.
The question, however, arises whether the White House' failure, last year, to send forces to rescue the four Americans killed in the Benghazi attacks, was also due to similar anxieties, namely that such an operation might not sit well with the Libyan government, the Libyan people, and the terrorist groups inside Libya.
It is also quite possible, however, that the President's reluctance to send forces into Benghazi to rescue the four Americans was simply due to the fact that he had promised that the US involvement in the Libyan rebellion would not entail sending boots on the ground in Libya, and he did not want to break this pledge, especially when the 2012 Presidential election was right around the corner.