Tunisia: Libya consulate attack suspect arrested

An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012. AFP/Getty Images

Last Updated Oct 24, 2012 3:58 PM EDT

Updated at 3:58 p.m. ET

TUNIS, Tunisia A Tunisian man who was arrested in Turkey earlier this month with reported links to the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya has been returned to Tunisia and is facing terrorism charges, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Ali Harzi was repatriated to Tunisia on Oct. 11 by authorities in Turkey, and a judge issued his arrest warrant, lawyer Ouled Ali Anwar told The Associated Press. He said his client was told by a judge Tuesday that he has been charged with "membership of a terrorist organization in a time of peace in another country."

A person who saw Harzi's court dossier told The Associated Press that prosecutors are linking him to the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

He said Harzi is one of two Tunisians arrested Oct. 3 in Turkey when they tried to enter the country with false passports. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. Harzi's alleged role in the attacks is not clear.

Meanwhile, a U.S. government official told CBS News that American investigators are in possession of some of the security camera video footage recorded during the attack. The official said the footage is of decent quality and investigators are reviewing it.

CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports that the State Department has footage from 10 cameras. The FBI obtained the footage from Libyans who removed it from the consulate compound days after the attack. The footage was recorded on non-infrared cameras and isn't complete.

Anwar denied there was any evidence that Ali "is implicated in the Benghazi attacks." He added his client was not using a fake passport, saying he was used as a "scapegoat to satisfy the Americans."

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. has been looking into the arrests of two Tunisian men being detained in Turkey reportedly in connection with the attack. The State Department in Washington had no further comment on Wednesday.

Tunisian Interior Ministry spokesman Tarrouch Khaled confirmed that Harzi was in custody in Tunis. Khaled told The Associated Press "his case is in the hands of justice," but he would not elaborate further on the case.

The charge against Harzi is punishable by six to 12 years in prison, according to the provisions of the anti-terrorist law in force in Tunisia since 2003.

His arrest comes less than a week after a Libyan Islamist militia commander who a witness and officials say helped lead the deadly assault said that he was at the building that night, but denied he was involved in the attack.

On Thursday, Ahmed Abu Khattala, who describes himself as a founder and commander of the Islamist militia Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah, told The Associated Press by telephone that he went to the consulate to rescue men that he had been informed were trapped inside.

Abu Khattala said that, despite reports of his involvement, he was going about his daily business as a construction contractor in Benghazi.

A Libyan witness interviewed in the aftermath of the attack by the AP said that Abu Khattala was present directing fighters. The witness spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation.

An AP reporter was also shown a camera photo of a long-haired, long-bearded man who was wearing the Afghan-style robe favored by many radicals and whom other Benghazi residents identified as the 41-year-old militia leader. The consulate's gate with barbed wire could be seen in the background.

The New York Times has quoted unnamed Libyan officials as singling out Abu Khattala as a commander in the attack, calling him a leader in the hardline Islamist Ansar al-Shariah militia. Other Libyan witnesses say they saw Ansar al-Shariah trucks mounted with heavy weapons outside the consulate the night of the attack.

On Tuesday, CBS News obtained three email alerts that were put out by the State Department as the attack unfolded.

The third, sent at 6:07 p.m. ET -- roughly two hours after the initial attack began -- contained the subject line "Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibilty for Benghazi Attack."

The overlap between Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah and Ansar al-Shariah is not clear. Libya's rebel council moved to disband Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah after the July 2011 assassination of rebel army chief Abdel Fattah Younis, a killing blamed on the Islamist group. Some militiamen say Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah fighters joined Ansar al-Shariah, which rose to prominence during fighting later in the war and was entrusted with security in post-war Benghazi.

In Abu Khattala's account of the night, he was informed by phone that there was a protest at the building and that four men were trapped inside. He and his men went there to rescue them.

Abu Khattala declined to explain further how and why he was called upon to go to the site. Libya's government lacks a strong army and police force and has relied on militias, including in the past Ansar al-Shariah, to keep order.

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