A Tunisian judge has released one of the very few people in custody in connection with the Libya terror attack. This has underscored concerns in Washington about the alleged lack of progress in the investigation nearly four months after the attack.
While a Senate committee and State Department-sponsored panel have both issued reports in recent weeks about the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, those reports said little about the criminal investigation itself. They examined the motivations and conditions that led to the attack, but not who was specifically behind it. Further, Capitol Hill lawmakers are still in a holding pattern as they wait to hear testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from a blood clot and has pledged to testify.
The criminal investigation itself falls to the FBI, and the decision in Tunisia appeared to be a blow to the case.
A lawyer for Ali Harzi, a 26-year-old Tunisian, said the presiding judge had “conditionally freed” his client Monday night and he has to remain in the greater Tunis area in case the court needs him. The lawyer described the release as “correcting an irregular situation” because authorities never had any real evidence.
A spokeswoman for the FBI says the investigation is ongoing, without commenting on the Tunisian judge’s decision.
In December, FBI officials questioned Harzi for three hours in the presence of a Tunisian judge.
U.S. officials also said in December that Egypt had arrested a member of the Islamic Jihad group for possible links to the attack, but in general they lamented a lack of cooperation from local governments in their investigation and said most suspects remained free.
In a recent TV interview, Harzi’s father, Tahar, said his son was just working in Libya in construction supporting his family.
Both Ali and his brother, Brahim, have had brushes with the law before, however. In 2005 the two were sentenced to 30 months in prison for having contact with another brother, Tarek, who fought against coalition forces in Iraq, according to lawyer Oued-Ali.
The father acknowledged that he had encouraged his sons to take up “jihad in the cause of God.”