The United States is expected to officially label groups linked to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya as terrorist organizations, effectively marking the first public accusations of responsibility for the September 2012 assault that left four Americans dead.
The New York Times and CNN, citing unnamed officials, report that the State Department will designate Ansar al-Shariah of Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia of Derna — a city in eastern Libyan — as terrorist organizations, asserting that members of both militant groups were involved in the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. The terrorist designation will also apply to suspected leaders of the groups, including Sufian bin Qumu, who is connected to the group from Derna and spent time in Guantanamo Bay.
The designations, first reported by the Washington Post, empower the U.S. to freeze the groups’ assets and prohibit Americans from providing material support.
The labels are unlikely to settle the debate over al-Qaeda’s role in the attack, which escalated into a political brawl after Republicans questioned initial assertions from the White House that the attack was locally spawned and relatively spontaneous. The State Department designation has been applied to groups around the world, though members like Qumu do have links to al-Qaeda.
The State Department is also expected to apply the terrorist label to Tunisia’s Ansar al-Sharia, which the U.S has linked to violent protests at an American school near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and which has been linked to attacks against security forces in the country.