If someone were to ask you how Ambassador Chris Stevens died in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, what would you say? An informed person would say that Ambassador Stevens died of smoke inhalation resulting from a fire while trapped from within the American consulate. While this is still the official cause of death the actual cause, exactly nine months to the day when it happened, remains unclear. What makes this reality all the more interesting is the source of this uncertainty. According to a recently deciphered March 14 online posting by well known Al-Qaeda bomb maker Abdullah Dhu-al-Bajadin, last year's terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was in fact a botched plan plotted around "abduction and exchange of high-level prisoners." Rather than hold Ambassador Stevens for ransom, the posting claims that the terrorists decided instead to kill him via lethal injection. According to an unnamed Western intelligence official, the purpose of this recent revelation by Dhu-al-Bajadin is believed to be partly aimed at increasing the public scrutiny of the administration's handling of the Benghazi attacks. In addition to garnering negative press on the U.S. government (and thereby increasing its own public profile-a primary objective of any viable terrorist organization), and assuming that the online posting is accurate, there are at least two things we can glean from this revelation.
The first is that the attack reveals an additional layer of technical and operational sophistication. It is no secret that the attack was both preplanned and well-organized. This additional information, of the means employed to murder Ambassador Stevens and the (original) ends of the operation, suggests the group possessed (and perhaps continues to possess) the wherewithal to exploit a similar opportunity again. Imagine for a moment the media fallout that a successful kidnapping attempt of a U.S. Ambassador by an Al-Qaeda affiliate would produce. Given the social media age we now live in, such an event would be a diplomatic disaster orders of magnitude greater than that sustained by this country during even the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981. As obscene as this may sound in light of the four American lives that were lost, the United States may have been fortunate that the Benghazi tragedy ended as it did.
The second is that the method of murder says something about the kind of attention Ansar Al-Sharia was looking to avoid. Given the grisly track record of Al-Qaeda kidnappings, death by lethal injection, while reprehensible to be sure, was also relatively humane. There is a reason for this. Although the American public is currently experiencing war fatigue, this fatigue can quickly turn into national fury if provoked. One will recall the national blood lust, already intense following the September 2001 attacks, which followed the murder of Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in early 2002. This blood lust played no small part in further galvanizing an already war-fever-stricken public into supporting the party that was most enthusiastic of invading Iraq. It seems that this willingness on the part of the American public to shed the blood of foreigners has not been lost on Ansar Al-Sharia. If Ambassador Stevens was murdered by lethal injection, it shows that the militants were interested in attaining a very specific kind of spectacle: one that would embarrass the American government without simultaneously enraging the American public.
Whether or not these allegations are true remains to be seen. Yet unlike many of the stories surrounding the Benghazi tragedy this one deserves the attention it is now getting.