The US Embassy in Libya warned Saturday of an “imminent” attack in the capital Tripoli.
In a statement on its website, the embassy said the attack would target a vital national institution in the Libyan capital, without giving further details.
Citing open source reports, the embassy said the area of the Central Post Office on Zawiyah Street in central Tripoli was cordoned off after possible improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were discovered.
But the Libyan Interior Ministry quickly denied the discovery of IEDs in central Tripoli. In a statement, the ministry said it had seized suspicious packages in the post office.
“Initial reports, however, suggested that there were no IEDs or explosives inside these packages,” it added.
The US Embassy in Libya is currently operating from neighbouring Tunisia.
Libya has remained beset by violence turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising led to the ouster and death of President Muammar Gaddafi after four decades in power.
Since then, Libya’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of power – one in Al-Bayda and another in Tripoli – along with a host of heavily-armed militia groups.
Share the Diplomatic Security Situation Reports with Friends!
As the US embassy moves to Jerusalem amid high security, history teaches that US diplomatic missions can become targets.
For many in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is anything but diplomatic.
It risks alienating important partners in the region and disqualifying Washington as a neutral broker to negotiate peace in the region. Already, it has contributed to Palestinian anger, as seen in the current protests on the border between Gaza and Israel, with deadly results.
Benghazi 2012: This Stars and Stripes flag was found after the attack on the US diplomatic mission (Reuters)
Yet if history has taught anything, it is that Trump, a self-styled expert dealmaker, may end up getting more than he bargained for.
When disaster does strike, American prestige and policy can suffer with high-flying political careers dashed
American diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa, as the representatives of the country in the region, can become lightning rods for anti-US sentiment, sometimes resulting in death and destruction.
And when disaster does strike, the reverberations can be felt worldwide, with American prestige and policy suffering and high-flying political careers dashed.
Tehran 1924: Lynching heralds martial law
Any discussion of US diplomacy and Iran triggers recollections of the 1979 crisis and the Islamic Revolution. Yet US diplomats had fallen victim to events in the region long before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rose to power.
In 1924, Robert Whitney Imbrie, a major in the US army, was the American vice-consul in Tehran. A spy-adventurer, his pre-foreign service exploits included successfully bringing a live gorilla from the Congo to New York and volunteering for the French army’s ambulance service during World War One.
Before taking his position at the US embassy in Iran, Imbrie gained a reputation as a hot-headed, fearless and vehemently anti-Bolshevik American agent, once using his walking stick to beat the head of the Soviet secret police department in Petrograd.
Ironically, Imbrie spent much of his working life undermining what he regarded as godless Soviets – but it was religious fanatics who were to determine his fate.
In July of that year, he took a carriage to inspect an angry crowd of anti-Bahai protesters in the center of Tehran. The protesters were gathered around a well that was rumored to have miraculous healing powers. But now the Bahais, a religious minority, had been accused of poisoning the font.
Imbrie approached, carrying a camera to take photographs for the National Geographic Society and accompanied by his bodyguard, a burly oilfield worker.
But soon he drew attention from the crowd, some of who accused him of being a Bahai.
He was attacked, badly beaten and rushed to a nearby hospital, where the mob then forced their way into the operating theatre and killed him.
Understandably, Imbrie’s death was a source of tension between Tehran and Washington, which demanded justice. Eventually, a soldier and two teenagers were found, accused and executed.
The incident also cast doubt on the safety of foreigners in Iran, as US newspapers fretted about security and religious fanaticism in the region.
The New York Times wrote that Iranian authorities should “cease to resort to appeals to the fanatical instincts which permeate not only the mob but also a large proportion of the intelligentsia” and urged Tehran to better protect foreigners in future.
This it did, when Iranian Prime Minister Reza Khan declared martial law, using the crisis to consolidate his power before eventually assuming the Iranian throne.
WAK Fraser, the British military attache at the time, noted how “the event gave him … the excuse for declaring martial law and a censorship of the press… Numerous arrests have been made, chiefly political opponents of the prime minister.”
Imbrie was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery. But his death had opened a new chapter in Iranian politics.
Tehran 1979: Hostages and revolution
Fifty-five years later, a second crisis involving American diplomats heralded another significant shift in US-Iranian relations.
In early 1979, the US embassy in Tehran was a long, two-story redbrick building standing on an avenue in central Tehran, the scene of intense US-Iranian cooperation which neither government expected to be broken.
The US embassy is stormed by Iranian students in Tehran in 1979 (Wiki)
Popularly likened to an American high school in appearance, the mission was known as “Henderson High”, a reference to Loy Henderson, its first US ambassador.
“It was like any other embassy, except the relationship of the United States and Iran was very close,” says Iranian-American historian Shaul Bakhash at George Mason University in Virginia.
“The shah worked closely with the Americans on diplomatic issues, on regional security, on the sharing of intelligence.”
But all that changed in February 1979, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran and son of Reza Khan, was deposed by the Islamic Revolution.
At first, Washington managed to uphold an uneasy relationship with the new Iranian government, despite the revolutionary fervor in Tehran.
But when the US granted Reza Shah asylum in May of that year, the hardliners had all the reason they needed to target the embassy.
‘It was a precise, planned political move that was designed to drive a wedge between the Iranian and American governments’
– Shaul Bakhash, academic
A group of students stormed the building on 4 November, taking 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage and parading them blindfolded and bound in front of television cameras.
“I was in Iran at the time and I must say the images were electrifying,” Bakhash said. “It was a precise, planned political move that was designed to drive a wedge between the Iranian and American governments.”
The hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days, was the death of President Jimmy Carter’s administration. His downfall was fuelled by the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages in April 1980, which resulted in the deaths of eight US service personnel in the desert southeast of Tehran.
The release of the hostages in January 1981 was regarded as an early victory for Carter’s successor Ronald Reagan, who was sworn in as president just minutes before they were freed.
But the crisis was catastrophic for US-Iranian relations, which have never recovered and are currently at a new low following the rejection by US President Donald Trump of the Iran nuclear deal.
Today the Tehran embassy – popularly known as the “den of espionage” in Iran – is a museum, standing as a monument to a shattered relationship.
Murals and posters criticising American and Israeli “arrogance” cover the walls, while various encryption devices and communication equipment are displayed behind glass screens, proof the Iranians say of Washington’s meddling overseas.
“For the Iranians it showed that the United States could be beaten,” says Bakhash.
Beirut 1983: Bombed into retrenchment
In early 1983, the US embassy in Lebanon was nothing if not picturesque, nestled as it was next to the American University of Beirut’s leafy campus and boasting vistas of the Mediterranean.
Journalist Kai Bird, who lived in the mission as a child, says: “The Beirut embassy was right on the corniche, a lovely venue. Any Lebanese, any American could just walk right into the embassy, say hello to the marine guards, state their business and get an appointment to see somebody.”
A bulldozer demolishes the bombed-out US embassy in Beirut in 1983 (Reuters).
Such openness in 2018 is unimaginable, as a visit to any US mission across the world will prove, in part due to the devastating suicide bombing in Beirut that took 63 lives and changed the American diplomacy forever.
In April 1983, Lebanon was eight years into a bloody civil war, which would eventually leave an estimated 150,000 dead and not end till 1990.
On the 18th of that month, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the US embassy and detonated.
Packing more than 900 kg of explosives, the truck bomb tore apart the embassy’s entire facade, as the explosion shattered windows across west Beirut.
Seventeen Americans, 32 Lebanese employees of the embassy and 14 passersby and visitors were killed, including some of the CIA’s top agents.
Beirut in 1983 was to be the opening salvo in a new type of warfare with which the United States still battles today
It was to be the opening salvo in a new type of warfare with which the United States still battles today. Likely directed by Iranian intelligence, the attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad, a militant group that later grew into Hezbollah.
It was also the first of several attacks on the US in the city. In October 1983, two truck bombs targeted at an international peacekeeping force killed more than 300 people, including 241 US peacekeepers. And in September 1984, 24 people were killed by a car bomb attack on the US embassy annex in east Beirut.
The attacks drew strong rhetoric and promise to see the mission through from then-US President Reagan. But by February 1984 the American military presence in Lebanon began to be drawn down, with the British, French and Italian forces following suit.
“There’d never been a military-scale attack on a US embassy before and I think it inaugurated a new form of warfare. It changed the whole landscape of US diplomacy – literally, the architecture changed.”
In an attempt to avoid a repetition of such a disaster, US embassies and missions worldwide now sit behind layer upon layer of security.
Many invariably resemble fortresses, set in isolated locations and sat behind thick walls, high fences and dozens of cameras. The former US embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square, for example, was constructed during the 1950s. Security increased over the decades, until the area on one side of the residential square was cordoned off. The new embassy, in Vauxhall, opened in December 2017, is on open ground and surrounded by a semi-moat.
But such security has its disadvantages. “Since 1983, the average diplomat is extremely isolated, and it’s very hard for them to develop friendships and contacts with local journalists,” says Bird
“So that’s had a very real impact on the daily routine and life of the average American diplomat. It’s terrible and it sends completely the wrong message. It sends a message to the average person in Lebanon or Egypt or Nepal or India that you can’t approach America, that we Americans are fearful.”
Benghazi 2012: The lingering legacy
Missions in Tripoli, Kuwait City, Jeddah, Damascus, Sanaa, Istanbul, Cairo and Tunis have all witnessed bombs, assaults or riots. A suicide bombing in Ankara in 2013, which killed one person, is just one of the more recent examples.
An armed man in the US consulate compound in Benghazi in September 2012 (AFP)
But none has had quite the political reverberations in recent years as the attack on the US temporary mission facility in Benghazi on 11 September 2012, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In 2012, Libya was emerging as splintered and unstable country after the uprising and NATO operation that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi the previous year.
Benghazi had been the cradle of the revolution against Gaddafi’s regime. Stevens was in the city promoting democracy and American friendship, as the US considered making its presence in the eastern Libyan city permanent. It was to cost him his life.
On the 11th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, the militant group Ansar al-Sharia staged an assault on the US mission.
Coming at the compound from all angles, the militants broke through the security using heavy weapons, RPGs and grenades. Once inside, the assailants started a fire, filling the Americans’ hiding place with smoke. Stevens managed to escape the building and was taken to a nearby hospital, but eventually died of smoke inhalation.
The unexpected attack and the diplomat’s death shocked America: according to David Des Roches at the National Defense University, it was also a wakeup call for US policy in Libya.
“It showed that the country had descended into something that was sub-national,” says Des Roches.
“Right now, when people look at Libya, it’s basically divided along the lines the Emperor Constantine divided it at the time of the Roman Empire.”
But Benghazi’s more enduring legacy was, perhaps, seen not in Libya but 8,000km away in the White House.
The attack sparked a lengthy inquiry, and exposed then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of an external email server – a scandal that plagued her 2016 run for the presidency.
“In her memoirs secretary Clinton attributes her defeat to the fact that additional emails were unearthed just five days before the election,” says Des Roches. “Well, we only found out that those emails existed because of the inquiries into Benghazi.
So if you take Secretary Clinton’s analysis, if not for Benghazi [then] she would be president today.”
Going by the same logic, Donald Trump would not be sat behind a desk in the Oval Office – and Washington would not have decided to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in Libya killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens. Tomorrow, a jury will continue deliberating in the case of Abu Ahmed Khattala, who is accused of organizing the attack. Adam Goldman of The New York Times joins Megan Thompson with more details.
Read the Full Transcript
Tomorrow a jury in Washington D.C. resumes deliberations in the first trial stemming from the September 11th 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. That attack killed four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. For the past seven weeks federal prosecutors have tried to prove defendant Abu Ahmed Khattala was a ringleader of the attack. Yesterday I spoke with New York Times reporter Adam Goldman who’s been covering the trial. Can you tell us who Abu Ahmed Khattala is and what is he accused of?
Well Abu Ahmed Khattala is a militia leader who lived in Benghazi and he’s simply accused of orchestrating the attacks on September 11th, 2012 on the U.S. diplomatic mission in which the ambassador was killed and another State Department employee, and a secret CIA base about a mile away in which two CIA contractors were killed.
I understand that building the case against him was a very complicated. There was even an informant that was who was paid $7 million. Talk to us a little bit about that.
Sure. This was an extraordinary difficult case for the FBI to build against Khattala mainly because the FBI couldn’t get into Benghazi to handle the informant. Typically in these types of situations the FBI agents who actually handle the informant. But in this situation they actually had to hand it off to military commanders who snuck into Libya and debriefed the informant every four months. They started working with the informant the end of 2012. It took took a long time for him to get what he needed from Khattala before they were satisfied they could move forward with the prosecution.
You attended several days of the trial. Can you just talk to us a little bit about what it was like? I understand that some of the witnesses had to testify in disguise?
A couple of the guys who work for the CIA wore wigs and mustaches. Their identities were classified and they’re protected so they were able to take the stand and under disguise. Khattala is there every day. He’s not in shackles – he sits quietly at his table with his lawyers. And you really see the power of federal courts on display when you’re watching this trial.
He is being tried in civilian court in a military court. Why was that decision made and what’s the implication?
Well I think it would be difficult to try Khattala in a military commission. He’s not affiliated with Al Qaeda – these people haven’t presented the case that he is. But he was prosecuted and charged by the Department of Justice with 18 counts – involved in the murders of these four Americans. And I think it was important to the Department of Justice and the FBI to hold somebody responsible and bring him back and prosecute him in civilian court. You know it’s sort of a canard this idea that civilian courts aren’t adequate to deal with terrorists but they’ve been dealing with terrorists for a very long time and Khattala is one of many foreign born terrorists who have been brought back to face trial. And in fact that was successfully prosecuted.
So if he is found guilty where will he end up?
He will probably end up at the supermax in Florence, Colorado. It’s a maximum security prison. The worst of the worst are there and he’ll probably spend the rest of his life, 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.
Are there any other people accused of having a role in the Benghazi attacks who are going to be tried?
The Department of Justice and FBI have charged more than a dozen people who were involved in the attack. On October 30, First Delta Force, an elite military unit working with the FBI once again apprehended one of the suspects near Misurata which is in Libya along the coast, and they brought him back and in fact they intend to prosecute him. It was Khattala himself who identified Mustafa al-Imam, the one who was picked up recently.
Share the Diplomatic Security Situation Reports with Friends!
A State Department security contractor says that it was asked to provide security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after a rival company failed to do the job, just 12 days before the terror attack of Sep. 11, 2012, which claimed the lives of four Americans.
Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, a large, Virginia-based security and private military contracting firm, told Breitbart News that the State Department approached the company less than two weeks before Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were brutally murdered.
Blue Mountain Group, the small Welsh security contractor to which the State Department initially awarded the contract over Torres’s bid earlier in the year, was allegedly failing on the job.
Torres, which is owned and operated by U.S. Special Forces veteran Jerry Torres, was initially denied the contract. Before Benghazi, Torres had provided armed guards for the United States embassies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. Blue Mountain, which is based in Wales, was apparently largely unknown in private contracting circles that were hired to work for the United States until the fateful attack on September 11, 2012.
“If we had been awarded that contract to protect the embassy compound in Benghazi, those men would still be alive today,” Bradley Owens, the political affairs officer for Torres told Breitbart News.
Owens said that on August 12, 2012 — just six months after Blue Mountain won the State Department contract for Benghazi — State Department official Jan Visintainer asked Torres’s director: “Hey, can Torres perform in Libya?”
We were asked 12 days before the attacks if we can come in and take over security. So they knew it wasn’t safe. Wait, it gets worse. We, of course, said yes. I got an email from our director of operations. We were going to rent a compound that was half a kilometer from the compound in Benghazi.
We were going to have a six-man team on the ground that were all ex-pat. And because of the work we were doing in Libya pre-and-post the war, we had a lot of friends who were Libyan and who knew how to fight.
“Many of the local Libyans who attacked the consulate on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, were the actual guards that the State Department under Hillary Clinton hired to protect the consulate in Benghazi,” Tiegen told Fox News last year. “The guards were unvetted and were locals with basically no background at all in providing security. Most of them never had held a job in security in the past.”
In addition, Owens told Breitbart News that the Blue Mountain contractors guarding the consulate were armed with batons. “The security situation had deteriorated, so the Benghazi contract never should have been an unarmed contract.”
Owens said that he told the State Department that it would taken 30 days for the company arrive on the scene and be ready to perform. “They would have had to end the contract [with Blue Mountain] and give it to us. It would have taken us a month to get set up.”
Owens told Breitbart News that he has decided to speak out about Benghazi because of the five-year anniversary of the attack, and because he was released from his nondisclosure agreement (NDA) last year.
“We want the system fixed. We want people punished. We want justice for Benghazi.” He added, “I could have been one of those guys.
“My number one mission right now is to get the word out about what happened,” Owens declared.
Asked why he waited so long to come out with the story, he said, “We waited to come forward because we knew we would get no traction under the previous administration. Now that Trump’s in the White House, and with the new administration, we believe they will take action and make things right.”
Owens also questioned the process through which Blue Mountain had been awarded the initial contract.
In 2013, a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch revealed that Visintainer had told Blue Mountain Group not to speak to the media after the attack.
Update: In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday evening, Torres said: “The U.S. ambassador is dead and nobody is held accountable for it.”
Asked if five years after the attack Benghazi could happen again, Torres said, “Oh absolutely. nothing’s changed.”
He said that Visintainer had also told him not to speak to the media.