U.S. captures suspect in Benghazi attack

U.S. captures suspect in Benghazi attack

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

A picture shows the damage inside the burnt US consulate building in Benghazi on September 13, 2012, following an attack on the building late on September 11 in which the US ambassador to Libya and three other US nationals were killed.


by Doug Stanglin and Oren Dorell, USA TODAY


Posted on June 17, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 17 at 9:47 AM

One of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi was captured by U.S. Special Operations forces in a secret weekend raid in Libya, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

The suspect, who is being held in a secure location outside Libya, was identified as Ahmed Abu Khattala, a senior leader of the Benghazi branch of the terror group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.

The operation marks the first apprehension of a suspected leader of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

There were no civilian casualties related to this operation and all U.S. personnel involved have safely departed Libya, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

President Obama said in a statement that the United States "has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans."

"The fact that (Khattala) is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel," Obama said. "Because of their courage and professionalism, this individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system."

The president added that the United States "will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks."

Officials said Khattala will be tried in U.S. court, the Associated Press reports. Last year, the U.S. filed charges against Khattala and a number of others in a sealed complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington.

In an interview last August with the Associated Press after the charges were filed, Khattala denied any involvement in the attack.

"I am a Libyan citizen and the American government has nothing to do with me," he said in a telephone interview then with the AP. "I am in my city, having a normal life and have no troubles and if they have an inquiry to make, they should get in touch with Libyan authorities."

The operation was first reported Tuesday by Fox News and The Washington Post.

U.S. officials tell the Post that Khattala was captured near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning.

Khattala has operated freely in Benghazi in the months following the attack, and has even given lengthy interviews with foreign journalists, including a reporter for The New York Times.

In a leisurely, two-hour interview with New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick in October, 2012, barely a month after the attack, Khattala denied he was a member of al-Qaeda but said he admired the group's puritanical zeal for Islamic law.

Khattla, then 41, said he was not part of the aggression at the U.S. compound on the night of the attack and said he did not intend to go into hiding.

Although witnesses told Times that Khattala was direct other fighters that night, he told the newspaper that he arrived just as gunfire was beginning to crackle. Libyan officials also singled him out for his role in the ordeal.

Khattala also claimed that the attack on the U.S. compound grew out of a peaceful protest against a video made in the U.S. that mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. He also said that guards inside the compound shot first at demonstrators

In December, The Washington Postreported that attempts to capture Khattala, as well as about a dozen other people who have been secretly charged in the attack, had stalled.

The Post said Tuesday that it learned about the capture Monday but agreed to a request from the White House to delay publication of a story because of security concerns.

Contributing: David Jackson and JIm Michaels in Washington, The Associated Press