Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said were “major assumptions” that Ali Harzi, who was arrested and repatriated from Turkey, had a link to the attack in the Libyan city that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11 this year. It was unusual for Larayedh to speak so publicly about the sensitive investigation in the television interview late Wednesday.
Harzi is one of two Tunisians arrested in Turkey. Any involvement of his raises the possibility that it wasn’t just Libyans attacking the U.S. consulate. Egypt has also reported that a local militant believed to be involved in the Benghazi attack was killed by security forces.
“There are two Tunisians that were arrested by Turkish authorities, who then repatriated them. One of the two is still free, the other has been arrested and is strongly suspected to have been involved in the attack of Benghazi,” Larayedh said, adding that an investigation was under way.
His lawyer denied U.S. media reports that Hamzi was involved in the attack.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the American mission in Benghazi was mainly a secret CIA operation, adding that of the 30 U.S. officials evacuated following the assault, just seven worked for the State Department.
CIA security officers went to the aid of State Department staff less than 25 minutes after they got the first call for help during the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday, as they laid out a detailed timeline of the CIA's immediate response to the attack from its annex less than a mile from the diplomatic mission.
The attack on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 by what is now suspected to be a group of al-Qaida-linked militants killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The timeline was offered just days before the presidential election in a clear effort to refute recent news reports that said the CIA told its personnel to “stand down" rather than go to the consulate to help repel the attackers. Fox News reported that when CIA officers at the annex called higher-ups to tell them the consulate was under fire, they were twice told to “stand down” The CIA publicly denied the report.
The intelligence officials told reporters Thursday that when the CIA annex received a call about the assault, about half a dozen members of a CIA security team tried to get heavy weapons and other assistance from the Libyans. But when the Libyans failed to respond, the security team, which routinely carries small arms, went ahead with the rescue attempt. The officials said that at no point was the team told to wait.
Instead, they said the often outmanned and outgunned team members made all the key decisions on the ground, with no second-guessing from senior officials monitoring the situation from afar.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide intelligence information publicly.
The consulate attack has become a political issue in Washington, with Republicans questioning the security at the consulate, the intelligence on militant groups in North Africa and the Obama administration's response in the days after the attack. Republicans also have questioned whether enough military and other support was requested and received. And presidential candidate Mitt Romney has used the attack as a sign of what he says is President Barack Obama's weak leadership overseas.
In the first days after the attack, various administration officials linked the Benghazi incident to the simultaneous protests around the Muslim world over an American-made film that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad. Only later did they publicly attribute it to militants, possibly linked to al-Qaida, and acknowledged it was distinct from the film protests. The changing explanations have led to suspicions that the administration didn't want to acknowledge a terror attack on U.S. personnel so close to the Nov. 6 election, a charge Obama has strongly denied.