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Secret American base in Libya reportedly seized by jihadists

Published time: April 23, 2014 20:33
Reuters / Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Reuters / Esam Omran Al-Fetori

A secret base in Libya that has reportedly been used up until recently by United States special operations forces may have been taken over by local militants linked to Al-Qaeda, a new report suggests.

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake claims that a team led by longtime Al-Qaeda affiliate Ibrahim Ali Abu Bakr Tantoush has seized a base 27 kilometers west of Tripoli that was established by the US in the summer of 2012 “in order to hone the skills of Libya’s first Western-trained special operations counter-terrorism fighters.”

Lake says his allegations — published in a report on the Daily Beast’s website on Wednesday this week — stem from local media accounts, Jihadist web forums and US officials. If it proves to be accurate, then a veteran Al-Qaeda member considered by both the US and United Nations to be a supporter of terrorism has taken the helm of a hush-hush base that has been the host of US-led training missions for two years following its refurbishment by American Green Berets.

An Arabic-language news report published earlier this month and cited by Lake suggests that Tantoush has recently taken command of the base and, according to the Beast writer, “he was heading a group of Salifist fighters from the former Libyan base.”

Lake went on to say an unnamed US defense official told The Daily Beast that the Libyan report was on par with what American intelligence knew, and a second official said he could not yet corroborate the facts of the matter. A third official with the US Africa Command declined to comment, and the message boards referenced by the reporter were not cited again elsewhere in his article.

On Tuesday evening, Lake added, Tantoush appeared on Libyan television and confirmed that he was in the country but not involved whatsoever in the camp. Another US official speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told The Daily Beast that the camp to the west of Tripoli is considered to be a “denied area” which American forces would not be able to easily gain access to.

Last September, Fox News reported that the base — the same one, according to Lake — was raided multiple times in August likely by terrorists who had taken a cache of equipment and weapons used by US Special Forces stationed in the region.

A grand jury in the Southern District of the New York indicted Tantoush and four others back in 2000 for conspiracy related to terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, and since 2002 he has been included on a Department of the Treasury list of foreign persons sanctioned for terroristic activity as outlined in an UN treaty.

"No one at the State Department wanted to deal with the situation if any more went wrong, so State pulled its support for the training program and then began to try and get the team moved out of the country,” Fox reportedly heard from an unnamed source.

Speaking to Lake, Al-Qaeda expert Seth Jones said “There are a number of training camps for a wide range of Al-Qaeda and jihadist groups that have surfaced in southwest Libya, northwest Libya in and around Tripoli and northeast Libya in and around Benghazi.” Only now, however, have militants reportedly taken hold of a formerly US-run base that had been launched to counter those same terrorists.