BENGHAZI, Libya, Oct 18, 2012 (AFP) -
BENGHAZI, Libya, Oct 18, 2012 (AFP) –
Libyan Islamist leader Ahmed Abu Khattala denied any role in the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans last month in an interview with AFP on Thursday.
A series of US media reports had implicated Abu Khattala. One published on Wednesday, citing anonymous Libyan officials and witnesses, identified him as a commander involved in the deadly September 11 assault on the US consulate in Libya’s second city Benghazi.
Abu Khattala, who led the Obeida Ibn Jarrah Brigade during the bloody uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi last year, vehemently denied the allegations in an interview with AFP.
“The report is a lie and all its contents are fabricated, baseless and lacking any credibility,” he said.
“Some claim I have left Benghazi and fled the country but, as you can see, talking to me in my house, this is not true.
“There are no new developments on the subject of the US consulate,” he said, adding that the reports reflected interests.
“What we can say is that a group of people came out to demonstrate and the guards tasked with protecting the consulate opened fire. I don’t know whether this came from the American or the Libyan section (of the guards),” he said.
“Then there was gunfire and finally the consulate was burned down,” he said.
US media reports cited officials familiar with the investigations into the attack.
But Abu Khattala said no investigators or officials had made contact with him.
“No officials of any kind have reached out or spoken to me about this matter,” the commander stressed.
The identity and motivation of the assailants, who stormed and set fire to the consulate, have become a subject of fierce debate in Washington in the runup to the November 6 presidential election.
Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has zeroed in on the issue to criticise Democratic incumbent Barack Obama’s broader Middle East policy and his alleged failure to address looming threats.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, appearing on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack, had described it as a “spontaneous” protest against a US-made movie mocking Islam that was “hijacked” by extremists.
However, it has since emerged that there was no such protest outside the consulate, and the attack appears to have been a pre-planned assault carried out by Islamist militants with possible links to Al-Qaeda.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of refusing to refer to the incident as a terror attack for fear of tarnishing its national security credentials ahead of the election.
US officials, for their part, insist their changing descriptions have simply reflected the evolving intelligence about the events that day.