When U.S. special operators assisted by Libyan forces nabbed al Qaeda leader Nazih al-Ruqai in Libya in October, the United States quickly hailed it as a victory. But the raid was greeted with threats of Americans being kidnapped, as the Libyan government protested the operation publicly even while supporting it in private.
That makes Monday's reported operation in the Libyan city of Misrata all the more interesting. Initial Libyan media reports say the U.S. and Libyan forces collaborated to capture Saifallah Benahssine, the leader of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia. But a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command, Chuck Prichard, quickly poured cold water on the idea of American involvement in the mission.
"We have no indications that any U.S. forces were involved," he said in a phone interview with Foreign Policy.
A Pentagon official, Maj. Rob Firman also said the Defense Department had no involvement in the operation.
"We have heard the reports, but were not involved," he said.
It remains to be seen if Benahssine really is in custody, and if so, where. When the United States captured al-Ruqai in November, he was transported for interrogation to a deployed Navy ship in the region, the USS San Antonio.
Benhssine (pictured above), also known as Abu Iyadh, allegedly was one of the main leaders in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, where Ansar al-Sharia was formed. U.S. officials said the extremist group also had a central role in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. That attack was pushed back into the headlines on Sunday after the New York Times published a 7,000-word story that drew the conclusion that al Qaeda had no direct role in the attack and that is was prompted primarily by anger over an anti-Islamic video produced in the United States.
The Times report has been criticized repeatedly by Republican lawmakers. They insisted that al Qaeda was directly involved, rather than just loosely involved with the group in Benghazi that carried out the attack.
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