Libya detains terror suspect in Benghazi attack

Faraj al Shibli, a Libyan national, has been detained by officials in Tripoli since Wednesday, Western intelligence officials told CNN on Thursday. Al Shibli, who is from a Libyan town 50 miles from Benghazi, was taken into custody after returning from a trip to Pakistan. 


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It remains unclear whether U.S. intelligence officials will be allowed to interrogate al Shibli, who is a member of the al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) on his possible role in the Benghazi strike. 

LIFG has been active in and around Benghazi, where the U.S. consulate was headquartered, since the late 1990s. 

If the attack against the American consulate in Benghazi was carried out by the LIFG, it would be akin to “playing basketball on [their] home court,” former CIA Gen. Michael Hayden told The Hill last September.  

Despite Thursday's arrest, there is no evidence that LIFG fighters were responsible for planning and executing the nighttime raid on the Benghazi consulate. 

But al Shibli's arrest highlights the increased cooperation between Tripoli and Washington on efforts to capture the individuals responsible for the terrorist attack in Benghazi. 

"There is a willingness exhibited by [Libya's] actions to cooperate," FBI director Robert Mueller told members of the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday. 

Noting it remained "exceptionally difficult, particularly in eastern Libya in Benghazi" for FBI investigators to gain access to witnesses and evidence tied to the attack, but "we have received cooperation from the Libyan authorities," Mueller said. 

"I will say that the investigation has not been stymied. There are hurdles that we've had to overcome, but it's ongoing and I believe will only prove to be fruitful," the FBI chief added.

Al Shibli is the second suspect in the Benghazi attack to be detained by Libyan officials. Ali ani al-Harzi, a Tunisian citizen, was arrested in Turkey last October. 

Al Harzi was deported back to his home country that month, where he is currently awaiting trial in Tunis on terrorism charges, but not before U.S. intelligence officials were allowed to interrogate him -- under the supervision of Tunisian authorities.  

At the time of his arrest, al Harzi was reportedly en route to Syria, likely to participate in the civil war between anti-government rebels looking to overthrow longtime President Bashar Assad. 

The ongoing investigation into the Benghazi attack has recently regained the spotlight on Capitol Hill, where congressional Republicans continue to pressure the White House for more details on the administration's response to the terrorist raid. 

The recent revelation that U.S. survivors are recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital has sparked GOP demands that the White House provide Congress with access to them. 

Exasperated GOP members say they will call on the survivors to testify before Congress, threatening to subpoena those individuals if the White House does not grant lawmakers access to them. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is leading the charge on the Senate side. He’s drafting a letter to Kerry and seeking access to the survivors and to the FBI files of their accounts “to see what they said” and how it was possibly used to draft up the administration’s now infamous initial talking points on the terrorist strike.

“We will be looking at every option,” Graham told The Hill on Wednesday in a reference to potentially issuing subpoenas for access to the witnesses.

White House officials initially claimed the attack was the result of an anti-American protest turned violent, but weeks later reversed their position and admitted the attack was a coordinated terrorist strike on the U.S. diplomatic outpost. 

GOP criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of the deadly incident had appeared to lose steam after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified earlier this year and the Senate subsequently approved then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to replace her. 

Democrats maintain that Republicans are simply looking for any avenue to score political points on Benghazi. 

“Benghazi is over and done with,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a senior member on the Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “As far as [Republicans] are concerned ... this has always been a political issue and that is the way they will continue to [pursue] it.”