Libyans say few questions being asked about attack
By Michael Birnbaum and Anne Gearan,
BENGHAZI, Libya — Three weeks after the attack that killed four Americans in this city, the investigation of its causes remains in its initial stages, with just a handful of suspects detained, the crime scenes minimally secured and Walid Faraj waiting for a phone call from someone, anyone, asking him what he saw on the night he was injured while protecting the U.S. diplomatic post here.
Faraj, a member of the militia that local officials tasked with securing Americans in Benghazi, said he saw the attack nearly from start to finish. But neither American nor Libyan investigators have paid him a visit, even as he fears that the perpetrators know who he is.
In Washington, a leading House Republican challenged on Tuesday the administration’s version of events on the chaotic night of Sept. 11, suggesting that the attack was planned and that congressional investigators have been told that requests for increased security at the U.S. diplomatic outpost had been turned down.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) listed incidents dating to April that he said created a pattern of threats.
Some of the incidents had been disclosed earlier, but others appeared to be new revelations. In one case, he said, Libyans working as private security guards at the U.S. compound were warned by family members in the weeks before the assault to quit their jobs because of rumors of an impending attack. He did not specify where the information originated.
“These events indicated a clear pattern of security threats that could only be reasonably interpreted to justify increased security for U.S. personnel and facilities in Benghazi,” Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote to Clinton.
Clinton assured Issa in a reply released by the State Department that the department would “work collaboratively with you to achieve the result we both want: a full and accurate accounting of the events and a path forward to prevent them from happening again.”
She said the department’s investigation will begin this week.
Meanwhile, an FBI team flown into Libya remains in Tripoli, hundreds of miles from Benghazi. A Libyan official involved in the inquiry said Tuesday that he was aware of only three suspects in custody. Meanwhile, members of the militant group suspected of playing a primary role in the attack have gone underground, apparently taking their weapons with them.
Faraj said he wondered whether anyone was trying to find out what happened the evening that U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed along with three other Americans.
“Since that day, nobody has called, nobody cared,” said Faraj, 28, who lost a tooth in the attack and whose legs are peppered with small wounds from the firefight. “How is it the Americans didn’t anticipate anything?”
Witnesses are scattered across Benghazi, a port town where the uprising that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi began. But many say they haven’t heard from investigators.
The U.S. and Libyan governments have not finalized a deal to allow American investigators to collaborate with Libyans in Benghazi, said Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Aziz following a meeting in Tripoli with Elizabeth Jones, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Reuters reported.
“We are getting ready for the FBI team to go to Benghazi and meet with our team and start joint investigations together and also visit the site,” he said.
Jones talked to Libyans about ensuring “that we are collaborating, that we are being transparent, that we are sharing information,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. outpost remained deserted on Tuesday, with no guards posted at its front or rear entrances. Although its gates are now locked, the crime scene was unsecured for several days after the assault, allowing looters and others to cart away evidence.
A top prosecutor in Benghazi who is on a committee investigating the incident said on Tuesday that only three suspects have been detained in Benghazi in connection with the attack.
“We are still collecting evidence,” said Salah Adam, the prosecutor. “You can’t arrest anybody unless you have evidence.” He said the investigation probably will take months.
In Washington, Issa and Chaffetz asked Clinton to detail any requests from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli for more security for U.S. installations. Their letter asks her to say by Monday whether the State Department knew about the incidents and what it did to respond. Nuland said Clinton intends to fully cooperate with the request and with a hearing slated for Oct. 10.
Nuland would not say whether there had been requests for more security, citing the State Department’s investigation.
“I think it’s fair to say that we are still working through what we have in this building in terms of documentation, in terms of information about what we knew, who knew it, when they knew it, and that’s part of the process that we have to go through,” she said.
The State Department’s five-member investigating team has not yet met, Nuland said. The department said nearly two weeks ago that the inquiry will be led by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. Clinton told Issa on Tuesday that retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also among the investigators.
Gearan reported from Washington.
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