BENGHAZI : Ahmed Boukhatala didn’t look like a wanted man, sipping mango juice across the table from me in a Benghazi hotel, a CBS correspondent reported. Dressed in a crisp white robe, a long grey beard on his face, Boukhatala was happy to share his fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. He calmly denied having anything to do with the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.”But the President himself, Mohammed Magariaf, told us you were one of the prime suspects,” I told him.
He just smiled.”If that’s what the President is saying,” replied Boukhatala, “Then he should come to my house and arrest me.”But that’s something government security forced are not do.
Boukhatala is the chief of a ferocious militia in Benghazi, the Abu Ubaidah Brigades – a sub-group of the larger Ansar al Shariah militia.
These men, armed to the teeth with weapons looted from deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s arsenals, act as both military and police in parts of Benghazi.
They are the law – because they say so. The government’s security forces – official police and army – are simply too weak to push them out. Boukhatala told us he did go to the U.S. Consulate compound the night of deadly attack.”I went to help four men who were trapped inside, “he said. When he arrived, though, the men were gone.”What time was that?” I asked. He couldn’t remember. The shooting had stopped at that point, he said.
Pressed on the matter, Boukhatala said the U.S. deaths were a tragedy, but claimed they were due to a lack of understanding between the U.S. and Libya overthe crude film mocking Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
The attackers, he said, were just ordinary people.”Ordinary people armed with rocket propelled grenades?””Yes,” he responded.
The details of what exactly happened the night the consulate compound was attacked are still murky. What is clear, though, is that Libya’s government is paralyzed.
Even though the official security forces are under huge pressure from America to arrest those who planned and carried out the attack, they haven’t acted because any moves against the Islamist militias could turn into a bloody battle… one the government could well lose. If the government moves in to arrest some of the Islamist militia members suspected of the attack, Iasked Boukhatala, would it start a fight?”Yes,” he answered. “That’s what we expect.”