Libyan suspected in Benghazi attack now in U.S. federal custody - official

by Reuters
Saturday, 28 June 2014 17:52 GMT

(Updates with U.S. attorney confirmation of 3:30 p.m. hearing)

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON, June 28 (Reuters) - The Libyan militia leader suspected in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans arrived in Washington on Saturday and will appear at a federal court hearing, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah was transferred into civilian law enforcement custody from a Navy warship where he had been held since his June 15 capture in Libya.

"Ahmed Abu Khatallah arrived in the District of Columbia this morning to face prosecution for his alleged role in the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya," said Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia.

He was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court for a 3:30 p.m. hearing, Miller said.

A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender in Washington, said legal representation likely would be discussed at the hearing.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi. The attack triggered a political firestorm for President Barack Obama with Republicans accusing his administration of misrepresenting the circumstances and of lax protection for diplomats.

Khatallah is charged with killing a person on U.S. property, a firearms violation and providing material support to terrorism.

There was heightened security around the federal courthouse building, which is blocks from the U.S. Capitol and across the street from the National Gallery of Art, prime tourist destinations in Washington. Two or three armed U.S. marshals patrolled the perimeter of the building.

The New York Times reported that Khatallah had been fingerprinted and photographed.

Khatallah was taken aboard the USS New York, an amphibious transport ship, after his seizure by U.S. special operations forces in a raid on the outskirts of Benghazi. At the time of Khatallah's capture, a U.S. official said he was expected to be questioned by an interrogation team at sea. The unit seeks information from suspects that might prevent future attacks.

Khatallah was in U.S. military custody for nearly two weeks before being transferred into the American civilian court system. The U.S. federal charges were filed in July 2013 but kept under a court seal until this month.

Khatallah denied in a Reuters interview in October 2012 that he was a leader of Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group Washington accuses of carrying out the assault on the consulate.

His capture was a victory for Obama, who has been accused by Republicans of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the Benghazi attacks for political reasons and of being slow to deliver on promises of justice.

Republicans said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to take steps to ensure the safety of American diplomatic personnel, an issue that is still resonating as Clinton considers running for U.S. president in 2016.

Khatallah's capture also led to Republican criticism, with some lawmakers calling for him to be taken to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for military prosecution. Obama has sought to close down the Guantanamo prison and his policy has been to try terrorism suspects caught abroad in the U.S. justice system.

Most terrorism suspects tried in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have been prosecuted at federal courts in New York and Alexandria, Virginia. (Additional reportiong by David Ingram; Jonathan Ernst, Kevin Fogarty; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Trott)

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