Skip to main content

Extremists don't speak for Libya

By Noman Benotman, Special to CNN
September 13, 2012 -- Updated 2034 GMT (0434 HKT)
Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack. Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack.
HIDE CAPTION
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. consulate in Libya was attacked; some thought it was because of a video
  • Noman Benotman: The attack was most likely a pre-planned terrorist operation
  • He says attack does not represent views of most Libyans, who are grateful to U.S.
  • Benotman: The international community must not give up on Libya's reconstruction

Editor's note: Noman Benotman is president of Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism group in London. He is a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a jihadist organization that fought against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in the 1990s. After resigning from L.I.F.G. in 2002, he became a prominent critic of jihadist and Islamist violence.

(CNN) -- The Obama administration may very well be right that the attack in Benghazi which claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials was part of a pre-planned terrorist operation. It would have happened sooner or later regardless of any protests against an obscure anti-Islam film made in America.

The attack apparently occurred because in recent days, the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri posted a video online calling on Libyans to avenge the killing of al-Qaeda's second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.

According to our own sources at Quilliam Foundation, the attack was the work of roughly 20 militants prepared for a military assault. It is rare, for example, that an RPG7 -- an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launcher -- would be present at a civilian protest. The attack against the consulate had two waves. The first attack led to U.S. officials being evacuated from the consulate by Libyan security forces, only for the second wave to be launched against U.S. officials after they were kept at a secure location.

News: How the Benghazi attack unfolded

Noman Benotman
Noman Benotman

Jihadists will want the world to believe that the attack is just a part of the protests against an amateur film produced in the U.S., which includes crude insults regarding the Prophet Mohammed. They will want the world to think that their actions represent a popular Libyan and wider Muslim reaction; thus, reversing the perception of jihadists being outcasts from their own societies. Since there were similar protests in Egypt against the film, it is possible that more protests may erupt in Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The jihadists may also feel that by killing U.S. citizens, they will win the support of local populations. They are wrong.

Who are the jihadists in Libya?

This attack was committed by a small group of extremists who do not represent the Libyan population. They seek to destroy any reconstruction attempts in my mother country. As often is the case, extremists try to take advantage of the absence of security in a country that has just gotten out of a civil war. They try so hard to destabilize the peace that the majority of the population have fought so hard to establish.

Libya struggling to deal with militants

Ambassador Stevens himself was well known for advocating peace and stability in Libya. The recent election results in the country are testament to his conviction that Libya can achieve progress. That Libyans did not vote the radicals into office in the elections proves that Libya is not a nation of extremists. The extremists' response to their electoral defeat comes in a language they relish: Violence.

Clinton blames 'small, savage group'

Opinion: Will Egypt's leaders calm or fan the crisis?

Obama: 'Justice will be done'

The attack on the U.S. consulate is a truly tragic event. Libya has lost one of the few foreign figures that really sought to invest time and energy into our country and believed in its future. Ambassador Stevens was one of a select number of international public figures based in Libya, who had refused to give up on Libya and its deteriorating security situation in recent months. He was an extremely successful envoy, who traveled the country to meet with all groups of Libyan society, and did not confine himself to international circles in the capital. No village or town was too far, and he was always keen to understand local customs. His death is a loss not just for Americans, but for many Libyans.

I hope that the Libyan government will take this time to reflect on the security vacuum in the country, in particular around Benghazi, and rebuild the defense and security sectors in an accountable, professional and responsible manner. I also hope that Libyan authorities will look to revise their policy of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) so that the situation on the ground can be improved.

Opinion: Libya killings show U.S. at risk in Arab world

We have welcomed the international community into our country, and I know that we want to continue our collaboration with the NATO community and member states, including, and especially, with the United States. These countries helped free us from the tyrannical rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was in power for 42 years. Many Libyans are forever grateful to America for its support in freeing our country from dictatorship.

This attack does not reflect the attitude of the Libyan population. For the international community, withdrawal of support from Libya will only play directly into the hands of jihadists, and that is the opposite of what we should do.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Noman Benotman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT