Pentagon Denies Involvement in Libya Raid

Reports U.S. forces arrested al-Qaida affiliated leader are untrue, defense officials say.

People gather at Martyr Square formerly known as Green Square, for the Eid Al-Fitr prayer on Aug. 31, 2011, in Tripoli, Libya.
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The Pentagon denies any involvement in a reported raid in Libya Monday that led to the detainment of a high-profile Islamist leader.

Abou Iyadh, a Tunisian also known as Saifallah Benahssine, is a top commander of the hardline Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Sharia. Multiple media outlets reported Monday that a team of U.S. and Libyan forces captured him in Libya, demonstrating a new hope for the weak Libyan government's efforts to combat extremism.

[READ: Capture of Terror Suspect in Libya Legal, Kerry Says]

A spokesman for the Defense Department said American troops played no part in the mission.

"Contrary to media reports, U.S. forces were not involved in any operations involving Ansar al-Sharia leader Abou Iyadh today in Libya," said Army Col. Steve Warren Monday. U.S. forces were not involved in any other operations in Libya in this time frame, he said.

Warren declined to comment on whether any other elements of the U.S. government participated.

American commandos carried out a mission in Libya in early October to capture Abu Anas al Libi, the same weekend SEAL Team Six failed to complete a separate raid in Somalia.

The news also follows reports that four U.S. servicemembers were detained by Libyan authorities over the weekend while they were investigating possible evacuation routes in the unstable North African nation.

Warren confirmed all four personnel have been released. The details of their arrest at a border crossing remain unclear. The U.S. Embassy in Libya along with officials from U.S. Africa Command are investigating the incident, he said.

They were operating near Sabratha in the northeast reaches of Libya "as a part of security preparedness efforts when they were taken into custody," Warren said, adding they are out of the county now. He declined to comment on the service branch of the four troops.

[WORLD REPORT: Libya, Somalia and the Shift Towards Special Forces]

Ansar al-Sharia, an offshoot of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, was declared a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2012. The organization is "simply AQAP's effort to rebrand itself, with the aim of manipulating people to join AQAP's terrorist cause," according to a State Department statement.

The group has been responsible for hundreds of deaths across the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

Ansar al-Sharia was originally thought to have helped orchestrate the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the Benghazi compound that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., included such reports in a letter to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting the group be added to the official list of terrorist organizations.

A New York Times report Saturday indicates al-Qaida may not have had anything to do with that attack.

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