UK & World News

  • 17 June 2014, 21:17

Benghazi Attack: US Forces Capture Suspect

US special forces have captured a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Libya.

Ahmed Abu Khattala was snatched on the outskirts of Benghazi in a secret raid by American troops working alongside the FBI at the weekend.

He is the first alleged perpetrator apprehended in connection with the September 11, 2012 assault on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

President Barack Obama said at an event in Pittsburgh: "It's important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice."

Defence Department Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that Khatalla had been seized on Sunday. 

"He is in US custody in a secure location outside of Libya," he said in a statement.

There were no civilian casualties in the raid and all US personnel involved safely departed Libya, he added.

Fox News, which broke the story, reports that Khattala is en route back to the US on board a US Navy ship.

Khattala faces three criminal charges in a federal complaint against him filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

He is accused of killing a person in an attack on a federal facility; providing or attempting to provide support to terrorists resulting in death; and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. 

Hawkish Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the accused should not be tried within the US justice system.

He tweeted: "Ahmed Abu Khattala should be held at Guantanamo as a potential enemy combatant. #Benghazi".

The US State Department, Libyan authorities and eyewitnesses allege that Khattala led the Benghazi assault as a commander of Ansar al-Shariah, a local Islamist group.

But shortly after the attack, Khattala told journalists he had nothing to do with the group or the incident.

In one interview with the New York Times, he was memorably described as sipping a strawberry frappe.

He is reportedly a construction worker whose involvement in Islamist causes earned him prison time under the former regime of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

Benghazi became a flashpoint in the 2012 US presidential campaign, amid conservative allegations that the White House tried to play down the assault in order to avoid any backlash from voters.

Last month, Republicans launched a congressional committee to investigate the matter.

Potential 2016 White House candidate Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time of the assault, is likely to face questions on Benghazi during an interview with Fox News, to be aired on Tuesday night.

Stevens was the first US ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years.

A State Department official and two CIA contractors also lost their lives in the attack.