The Pentagon announced June 23 that Ali Awni al-Harzi, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, was killed eight days earlier by a US air-strike in Mosul, Iraq. The Defense Department describes al-Harzi as a “person of interest” in the Benghazi attack, adding that he “operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East.” In April, both the US State Department and the United Nations designated al-Harzi as a terrorist. The State Department found that Harzi “joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia.” Ansar al-Sharia works closely with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The State Department’s designation did not mention Harzi’s role in the Benghazi attack, but the UN’s designation for Harzi reads: “Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012.”
Harzi was apprehended in Turkey in October 2012 at the behest of US officials. He was said to have been making his way to Syria at the time. He was deported to Tunisia, where he was released weeks later. In December 2012, while in Tunisian custody, Harzi was interrogated by FBI agents about the Benghazi attack. Ansar al Sharia apparently stalked the agents and posted their pictures online, condemning the Tunisian government for allowing the FBI access to Harzi. In January 2013, Ansar al Sharia posted a video celebrating his release.
US officials, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Brennan, who became the CIA director, were asked about Harzi’s release during congressional hearings. In January 2013, Clinton told senators the Tunisians had “assured” the US that Harzi was “under the monitoring of the court.” In February, during his confirmation process to become CIA director, Brennan claimed that the US government “didn’t have anything on” Harzi.
In February 2013, shortly after Harzi’s release, left-wing Tunisian politician named Chokri Belaid was assassinated. Then, in July, another popular politician, Mohamed Brahmi, was killed. Tunisian authorities claimed that Harzi was involved in both assassinations, and issued a warrant for his arrest.
The UN also designated Tarak Awni (also rendered Ouni) Harzi, Ali’s brother, as a terrorist. The designation charged that Tarak was a “dangerous and active member of al-Qaida in Iraq.” In 2007, Tarak was sentenced in absentia to 24 years imprisonment for terrorist activities by the a Tunisian court. But both of the Harzi brothers remained at large and went on to work for the Islamic State. (Long War Journal, June 23)
Another militant named by the US as a suspect in the Benghazi attack, Faraj al-Shibli, was reported killed in Libya last year.