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Head of Libyan Group Linked to Benghazi Attack Remains Free

The leader of the Libyan extremist group believed to be behind the deadly assault last month on a U.S. diplomatic complex in Benghazi has yet to be arrested, after being spotted at the scene during the attack, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

Two high-ranking Libyan security officials said Ansar al-Shariah founder Ahmed Abu Khattala remains at large; he is reported to espouse an ideology similar to that of al-Qaeda's terrorist network. The Sept. 11 attack left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The U.S. government is weighing options for retaliating against the attackers. However, one concern is the possibility that any moves against Ansar al-Shariah could backfire by encouraging greater public support for extremist Islamist groups like it and the regional al-Qaida affiliate.

"Tripoli is far away, and we aren't going to start a civil war here by ourselves," one Libyan official interviewed by the Journal in Benghazi said.

The United States is studying options for sending drones into the North Africa region and has not ruled out the possibility of a covert retaliatory attack against the extremists involved in the Benghazi assault.  Still, U.S. officials would prefer to go through national governments and regional entities in bringing the perpetrators to justice, according to the newspaper.

Evidence of complicity in the Benghazi strike by individual extremist group members is not yet strong enough for a response attack to be conducted, according to U.S. officials. 

"It's not like strikes are in the cards right now," one anonymous official said.

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