WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. forces working with the FBI captured a key suspect in the deadly 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Libyan militia leader Ahmed abu Khattalah was captured over the weekend, officials said. It is the first arrest and detention by the United States of anyone in connection to the Benghazi attack.
Abu Khattalah, who faces three federal criminal charges, will be tried in U.S. courts, said Attorney General Eric Holder.
“We retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days,” Holder said. “Even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators.”
Abu Khattalah is now being held in a location outside Libya, officials said.
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said the U.S. military and law enforcement personnel captured abu Khatallah on Sunday, and that he is in U.S. custody outside of Libya.
There were no civilian casualties in the operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya, Kirby said.
Last year, federal prosecutors filed sealed charges against abu Khattalah over the Benghazi attack, in which scores of militants using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons attacked the compound.
On Tuesday, a federal judge unsealed the charges, which accuse abu Khatallah of killing a person in course of an attack on a federal facility with a firearm and dangerous weapon, and of attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death.
The charges, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, also accuse him of discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possessing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
President Barack Obama said he authorized the operation that led to abu Khattalah’s arrest.
“This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said, however, he believed abu Khattalah should be tried in Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military prison in Cuba that the Obama administration is now trying to shutter.
“I’d bring him to Guantanamo. Where else can you take him to?” McCain said.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens died in the attack, which became a political flashpoint.
The Benghazi incident raised questions about security measures at the compound, and whether President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had heeded prior warnings about possible assaults. Those questions still endure, especially as Clinton is perceived as considering a run for the presidency in 2016.
Last January, a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi said the panel’s majority believed that attack was “likely preventable” based on known security shortfalls at the facility and prior warnings.
In early May, House Speaker John Boehner pressed questions about the administration’s handling of consulate security and announced he would form a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack. Boehner’s announcement came after previously unreleased documents, including an e-mail from a White House national security aide, raised questions about what the Obama administration knew about the armed assault and how it responded in the days after.
The attack on the Benghazi consulate occurred on September, 11, 2012, eleven years to the day after the terror attacks on U.S. soil that killed 2,977 people. The diplomatic mission was assaulted and burned, and an attack later that night involved mortar and rocket fire against a U.S. diplomatic annex in the city.
The attack was first portrayed as violence by an angry mob responding to a video made in the U.S. that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, but officials later determined the incident to be a terrorist attack.