US captures suspected mastermind of Benghazi attack

Libyan militia leader to be brought to US in days to face trial

Smoke rises from the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012, following an attack in which US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Photograph: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

The United States has captured the man it suspects was the ringleader of the attack on the country's consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 that killed US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

In the first arrest by the US of a suspect in the deadly assault, Libyan militia leader Ahmed abu Khatallah was captured in a raid in the north African country by US military forces on Sunday working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr Khatallah, who the Pentagon said was "in US custody in a secure location outside of Libya", will be brought to the US in the coming days, according to a spokesman for President Obama's national security council.

The US filed criminal charges against Mr Khatallah last year, paving the way for his trial in the US District Court in Washington on three offences that could carry the death penalty.


President Obama, who sanctioned the raid to seize Mr Khatallah, said that “when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice”.

He praised military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel for tracking and capturing Mr Khatallah, whom the US has described as a “key figure” in the Benghazi attack when the consulate and nearby CIA outpost were stormed by gunmen and set on fire, killing Mr Stevens, technology specialist Sean Smith and ex-Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. “This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” said the president.

Further charges

US attorney general Eric Holder said the Department of Justice retained the option of bringing further charges against Mr Khatallah in the coming days. The investigation would continue to identify and arrest any suspected co-conspirators in the attack on the consulate and a nearby CIA outpost on the night of September 11th-12th, 2012, he said.

Mr Khatallah, who has denied involvement in various interviews given to Western media outlets, had been living openly in Libya. In one account, published in the New York Times in 2012, he was seen sipping a strawberry frappé on the patio of a Benghazi hotel.

The attack and the Obama administration's response has become a highly contentious political issue in the battle between the Democratic White House and Republicans in Congress.

Mr Obama and his staff have come under fire from Congressional Republicans who have accused the White House of initially covering up the involvement of militants in the attack in order to assist the president's re-election bid in 2012 in a tactical manoeuvre to limit the damage politically.

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted in May to set up a committee to investigate the White House’s response to the attack. In the days after the assault the White House said that the attack stemmed from anti-American protests in response to a US-made video that was seen as being insulting to Islam.

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time, said after the publication of her new memoir that she was "ultimately responsible for my people's safety" but that there were limits to what she could have done.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times