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Benghazi suspects ID’d by FBI; no arrests

– The U.S. has identified five men who might be responsible for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists, officials say. But there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

The men remain at large while the FBI gathers evidence. But the investigation has been slowed by the reduced U.S. intelligence presence in the region since the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks, and by the limited ability to assist by Libya’s post-revolutionary law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which are still in their infancy since the overthrow of dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and holding them at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The preference is toward a process in which most are apprehended and tried by the countries where they are living or arrested by the U.S. with the host country’s cooperation and tried in the U.S. criminal justice system. Using military force to detain the men might also harm fledgling relations with Libya and other post-Arab-Spring governments with whom the U.S. is trying to build partnerships to hunt al-Qaida as the organization expands throughout the region.

A senior administration official said the FBI has identified a number of individuals who it believes have information or may have been involved, and is considering options to bring those responsible to justice. But taking action in remote eastern Libya would be difficult. America’s relationship with Libya would be weighed as part of those options, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the effort publicly.

Waiting to prosecute suspects instead of grabbing them now could add to the political weight the Benghazi case already carries. The attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans weeks before President Obama’s re-election. Since then, Republicans in Congress have condemned the administration’s handling of the situation, criticizing the level of embassy security, questioning the talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her public appearances to explain the attack and suggesting the White House tried to play down the incident to minimize its effect on the president’s campaign.

The FBI released photos of three of the five suspects earlier this month, asking the public to provide more information on the men pictured.

The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies identified the men through contacts in Libya and by monitoring their communications. They are thought to be members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were seen near the U.S. diplomatic facility prior to the violence.

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