US ambassador Chris Stevens.
A Libyan-flagged vessel which last year was used by a Malta-based humanitarian organisation in supplying a lifeline to rebels in Misurata, has been implicated in a covert US arms smuggling operation to Syrian freedom fighters, which may also be linked to murdered US ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi last month.
The ship 'Al Entisar' which was chartered last year by I-Go Aid Libya, then run by businessman Mario Debono, has been reported to be linked to last September's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
A Fox News investigation revealed that shipping records confirmed that the Al Entisar entered the Turkish port of Iskenderun, some 35 miles from the Syrian border, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other US officials were killed during an assault by more than 100 Islamist militants on the US Consulate compound in Benghazi.
Another report, this time appearing on the Times of London, said that the Al Entisar was carrying 400 tons of cargo. Some of it was humanitarian, but also reportedly weapons, described by the report as the largest consignment of weapons headed for Syria's rebels on the frontlines.
Walid Phares, a Fox News Middle East and terrorism analyst, identified the Al Entishar on a news report aired by the news channel, saying, "this is the Libyan ship... which is basically carrying weapons that are found in Libya."
Phares added that the ship came all the way up to Iskenderun in Turkey. "Now from the information that is available, there was aid material, but there were also weapons, a lot of weapons."
The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPGs and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
The ship's Libyan captain reportedly told the Times of London that "I can only talk about the medicine and humanitarian aid" for the Syrian rebels.
It was reported there was a fight about the weapons and who got what "between the free Syrian Army and the Muslim Brotherhood."
According to various reports, on the night of September 11 - in what would become his last known public meeting - US Ambassador Stevens reportedly met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m.
Fox News said that although what was discussed during the meeting is not public, "Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists."
But although the negotiation was said to have taken place, it may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Al Entishar, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Fox News added that a source at the US Congress also cautioned against drawing "premature conclusions" about the consulate attack and the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria via Turkey, noting they may in fact be two separate and distinct events.
But the source acknowledged to Fox News that the timing and the meeting between the Turkish diplomat and Stevens was "unusual."
Contacted last night, Mario Debono said that the Malta-based humanitarian organisation is now defunct, but still assists in civilian medical evacuations from Libya to other European countries.
When asked about the Al Entishar, Debono said that the ship was chartered from its Libyan owner to I-GO Aid Libya last year, and operated between Malta and Misurata to transport humanitarian aid.
"I can tell you 200% that no weapons were ever transported on board the Al Entishar to Misurata, and the only military equipment, if you may call them so, were bullet proof vests," Debono told MaltaToday.
Asked on whether he knew about the reports regarding the possible involvement of the Al Entishar in the transport of weapons from Libya to Syria, Debono said that he heard of the reports, but that the ship was returned to its Libyan owner, who in turn chartered it to a new contractor.
"I-GO Aid Libya has nothing more to do with the Al Entishar," Debono said.