Benghazi attack ‘mastermind’ acquitted of murder, convicted of terrorism
After five days of deliberation, a federal jury convicted Ahmed Abu Khatallah of four charges on Tuesday, including providing support for terrorism, destroying US property and placing lives in danger, and illegal use of a firearm, according to multiplereports.
The jury found Khatallah, 46, not guilty of 14 charges against him, including the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and security officers Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were all killed in the September 11 attacks on the compound.
Khattala was the first suspect thought responsible for the attack to be apprehended by authorities. He faces a maximum of 60 years in prison, according to a Department of Justice statement obtained by Buzzfeed.
During the eight-week trial, federal prosecutors painted Khatallah as the mastermind behind the attacks, which they claimed he had been planning from a spy base for at least a year.
The Justice Department accused Khatallah in 2014 of conspiring with others to “attack the facilities, kill US citizens, destroy buildings and other property, and plunder materials, including documents, maps and computers containing sensitive information.”
Khatallah’s defense attorney argued his client did not organize the attack, but was simply a witness who went to the compound to because he thought there was a protest and wanted to see what was happening.
“They want you to hate him. That’s what this case has been about,” public defender Michelle Peterson told jurors, according to the Associated Press. “They want you to hate him enough to disregard holes in their evidence.”
Prosecutors acknowledged that Khatallah was not at the compound during the attack, but described him as the “on-scene commander” of the attacks that targeted the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, as well as a nearby CIA complex.
“He viewed the United States, which promoted freedom, as the cause of all the world’s problems,” Assistant US Attorney Michael DiLorenzo told jurors, according to the Associated Press. “He was there to kill Americans, and that is exactly what he and his men did.”
CIA director Mike Pompeo said that the verdict was “a small measure of justice.”
“It took intelligence to find him, soldiers to assist in capturing him, law enforcement to interview him, and a legal team to put him away,” Pompeo said in a note to the agency. “Khatallah’s sentencing is to follow; but no term in prison will bring our people back.”
Though US officials initially claimed that the attack was a spontaneous response to a YouTube movie considered offensive by Muslims, US intelligence later determined that the attack on the US diplomatic compound was coordinated by the militant group Ansar al-Sharia.
The US State Department has called Khattala a “senior leader” of a Benghazi affiliate of Ansar Al-Sharia, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by American officials. The Obama administration previously backed the anti-Gaddafi forces and helped to kill the Libyan leader later that year.
Last month, US special forces in Libya detained Mustafa al-Imam, another militant thought to be involved in the attack.
President Donald Trump said he expects al-Imam to “face justice” on US soil.
“Our memory is deep and our reach is long, and we will not rest in our efforts to find and bring the perpetrators of the heinous attacks in Benghazi to justice,” Trump said in a statement.