American special forces capture suspect in Benghazi attacks
WASHINGTON — Special forces seized a “key leader” of the deadly Benghazi, Libya, attacks, and he is on his way to stand trial in the United States in the fiery assault that killed the ambassador and three other Americans, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday. It was the first breakthrough in the overseas violence in 2012 that has become a festering political sore at home.
An audience at the TechShop in Pittsburgh's Larimer section burst into applause as President Obama veered from his prepared remarks on manufacturing to hail Ahmed Abu Khattala's capture.
“When Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Obama said. “I want to make sure that everybody around the world hears that very clearly.
“We will find you,” he added.
As recently as August, though, Abu Khattala said that he was not in hiding, nor had he been questioned by Libyan authorities about the attacks at the diplomatic compound. He denied involvement and said that he had abandoned the militia. Administration officials said on Tuesday that despite his media interviews, he “evaded capture” until the weekend when military special forces, including members of the Army's elite Delta Force, nabbed him.
Whatever the path to his capture, he is headed for the United States to confront what Obama called “the full weight of the American justice system.” Obama called the Libyan an “alleged key leader” of the attack.
American officials said Abu Khattala was being held on the Navy amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, which was in the Mediterranean Sea. The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss Abu Khattala's whereabouts.
The Libyan was the commander of a militant group called the Abu Obaida bin Jarrah Brigade and is accused of being a senior leader of the Benghazi branch of Ansar al-Shariah in Libya, which the United States has designated a terror group.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans urged the administration to get as much intelligence out of Abu Khattala as possible before anyone reads him his rights to remain silent, supplies him with a lawyer and prepares him for trial. In fact, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said interrogation of the Libyan was under way, and “we hope to find out some positive things.”
Abu Khattala is charged with terror-related crimes in U.S. District Court in Washington and will be tried like a civilian, the administration said. The Obama administration policy is to treat terror suspects as criminals when possible and not send them to the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, like hundreds of terror suspects captured during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the United States should skip the legal niceties and focus on interrogation.
“The most valuable thing we can get from this terrorist is information about who else was involved in this,” McConnell said. “We'll be watching closely to see how much information they glean from him and how they're handling it.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., added: “We should have some quality time with this guy — weeks and months. Don't torture him; have some quality time with him.”
Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi declined to comment on whether Abu Khatalla had been read his “Miranda rights.”
“As a general rule, the government will always seek to elicit all actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects in our custody,” Raimondi said in an email.
The Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Stevens was the first American ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.
With the presidential election near, Republicans accused the White House of intentionally misleading voters about what sparked the attack by portraying it as one of the many protests over an anti-Muslim video made in America, instead of a calculated terrorist attack on the president's watch.