Benghazi suspect Khattala pleads not guilty before federal judge in D.C.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected Libyan ringleader of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, was brought Saturday from a Navy warship to the federal courthouse in the District of Columbia, where he entered a plea of not guilty to a single conspiracy charge.
At 3:25 p.m., Khattala walked, unshackled, into a paneled courtroom in downtown Washington, wearing a black, zip-up hooded sweatshirt, black pants and a flowing gray beard. It was his first appearance in public since he was captured in Libya two weeks ago, transported across the Atlantic Ocean in a ship made of steel from the World Trade Center's rubble, and flown by helicopter into the District just after sunrise Saturday.
As he stood at the end of a long table, wearing a headset and with his right hand raised, Khattala said through a translator that he understood the proceedings and would tell the truth.
His public defender, Michelle Peterson, told a federal magistrate judge that her client was not guilty of the charge of “conspiracy to provide material support” on which a federal grand jury in D.C. had indicted him on Thursday.
Ten minutes after the hearing began, it was over. Flanked on each side by guards in suits and ties, Abu Khattala walked less than a dozen steps to a wooden door, which was opened for him. He was led out of the courthouse to a waiting caravan of black SUVs, which wailed down Third Street Northwest and took him across the Potomac River to the Alexandria Detention Center, a jail that has held other terrorist suspects since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The rare Saturday hearing, in the federal courthouse within blocks of the Capitol, was a presentment hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola. The session was the beginning of what are almost certain to be lengthy federal criminal proceedings.
Khattala is the first of the alleged perpetrators to be apprehended in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. He faces criminal charges in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and the three other Americans. Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in more than three decades.
According to a law enforcement official, Khattala was questioned during the journey from the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS New York, an amphibious transport dock.
The ship's movements were a well-guarded secret, and all its outbound communications were blacked out for security.
As of a few days after his June 15 capture, Khattala had not been informed of his Miranda rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney, under a “public safety” exception to those constitutional rights, according to several U.S. officials. But on Saturday, two law enforcement officials said Khattala had been told of his Miranda rights “days ago” and continued talking with investigators afterward. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
During the brief dawn helicopter ride, he was flown from the ship to a landing area near the Washington Navy Yard. Before the hearing, he was fingerprinted and photographed.
Khattala's is one of the most significant terrorism cases in recent memory. His capture in Benghazi by special operations forces was a breakthrough for the Obama administration in an investigation that had dragged on after President Obama promised that the perpetrators of the attacks would be brought to justice. The slow pace fueled Republican criticism of the administration's handling of the case — and of the Libyan mission's vulnerability in the first place.
In a one-page criminal complaint unsealed on June 17, Khattala was charged in connection with a deadly attack on a federal facility, supporting a terrorist group and a weapons offense.
According to a federal official, prosecutors empaneled a separate grand jury to indict Khattala on just one charge, which they consider a “place holder,” to avoid revealing publicly too much of the case's evidence while a search continues for witnesses to the Benghazi attacks. The charge, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, is conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists resulting in death.
Federal officials said the single charge is likely to be joined by a superseding indictment that could result in other charges and disclose more evidence in the case. One of the additional charges could carry the death penalty, according to a government official.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Not to be left behind, speedy Steelers are on the fast track in NFL
- The IRS scandal: Do the Lois Lerner emails still exist?
- Rossi: Steelers will make small strides this season
- Steelers have plenty of new faces at wide receiver
- In last preseason game, a final audition for some Steelers
- Customers anxious for details about Highmark transition plan for W. Pa.
- McKeesport Area teacher fired amid sex scandal returns to school
- Starkey: Bucs still battlin’
- Penguins GM insists new coach Johnston was no afterthought
- Jury deliberating sex assault charges against ice cream shop owner
- Annual Rib Festival at Heinz Field promises plentiful good food, music