Ahmed Abu Khattala

Ahmed Abu Khattala is a Libyan militia leader convicted of conspiracy in the 2012 attacks on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html. Khattala was taken to the United States for prosecution after he was captured in June 2014.Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman, “At Trial, a Focus on the Facts, Not the Politics, of Benghazi,” New York Times, October 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/us/politics/benghazi-trial-ahmed-abu-khattala.html. He underwent a seven-week trial beginning in October 2017. On November 28, he was convicted of four charges related to terrorism and sentenced to life in prison, but was acquitted of fourteen other charges, including multiple counts of murder. Khattala was the first person to be charged and prosecuted for involvement in the Benghazi attacks.Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html.

Khattala grew up in the neighborhood of el-Leithi in Benghazi, Libya. Never having completed high school, he worked as a constructor contractor. He was reportedly arrested for his Islamist extremism and spent many years of his adult life imprisoned in Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Abu Salim prison in Tripoli.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi; “US seizes Benghazi raid ‘ringleader’ Ahmed Abu Khattala,” BBC News, June 18, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27893831. In an interview with the New York Times, Khattala admitted that he espoused anti-Western and pro-al-Qaeda views, although he denied any direct links to the terror group.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi.

During the 2011 uprising against Colonel Gaddafi’s regime, Khattala formed his own small militia of about two dozen members called Obeida Ibn Al Jarra and helped to defend the rebel-held city of Ajdabiya.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi; “US seizes Benghazi raid ‘ringleader’ Ahmed Abu Khattala,” BBC News, June 18, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27893831. Khattala worked with other Islamist militias in Benghazi and gained substantial fame after he was suspected of taking part in the July 2011 capture and murder of General Abdul Fattah Younes, the main commander of the rebel movement against Gaddafi who was suspected of being anti-Islamist. In the subsequent year, however, Khattala stopped cooperating with other Islamist militias that supported the Western-backed provisional government in Libya, instead choosing to maintain his hardline anti-democratic and anti-Western views.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi.

On the night of September 11, 2012, armed militants stormed a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, then set it on fire. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department employee Sean Smith were killed in the blaze. Before dawn the next morning, militants launched a second attack on a nearby CIA base with mortars and small-arms fire. Two CIA security contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, were killed in a mortar strike.Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html; Spencer S. Hsu and Ann E. Marimow, “Accused Benghazi ringleader convicted on terrorism charges in 2012 attacks that killed U.S. ambassador,” Washington Post, November 28, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/accused-benghazi-ringleader-convicted-of-terrorism-charges-in-2012-attacks-that-killed-us-ambassador/2017/11/28/39fca3b8-ca37-11e7-aa96-54417592cf72_story.html. Khattala’s exact role in the attacks remains unclear. According to witnesses, including a Benghazi official, he was present at the scene of the first attack on the U.S. consulate, taking reports from fighters and giving them orders. According to a New York Times report, he instructed one fighter to “flatten” the remains of the compound.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi. He appeared on an internal surveillance video around 11:30 P.M., although this was after the attack was over.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi; Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html. Later that night, Khattala reportedly appeared to be preparing fighters for a second attack––presumably the attack on the CIA compound.David D. Kirkpatrick, “A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” New York Times, December 28, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/benghazi.

In July 2013, U.S. officials filed charges under seal against Khattala in connection with the Benghazi attack.Pete Williams and Richard Esposito, “US charges Libyan with role in deadly attack on Benghazi consulate,” NBC News, August 6, 2013, http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/06/19898418-us-charges-libyan-with-role-in-deadly-attack-on-benghazi-consulate?lite. Khattala remained in Benghazi until the U.S. military launched an operation to capture him in June 2014. He was lured to the Libyan coastline, where he was ambushed by members of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and the FBI’s hostage rescue team. Khattala was carrying a firearm and was able to violently resist capture for several minutes before he was subdued and restrained. Khattala was then taken to a detention facility on a U.S. warship, where he was interrogated.Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman, “At Trial, a Focus on the Facts, Not the Politics, of Benghazi,” New York Times, October 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/us/politics/benghazi-trial-ahmed-abu-khattala.html.

In January 2014, the U.S. Department of State designated Khattala as a terrorist, naming him a “senior leader” of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.Karen DeYoung et al., “U.S. captured Benghazi suspect in secret raid,” Washington Post, June 17, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-captured-benghazi-suspect-in-secret-raid/2014/06/17/7ef8746e-f5cf-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html. However, Khattala denied his involvement with the militant group.Mary Fitzgerald, “A Conversation with Abu Khattala,” New Yorker, June 18, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/06/abu-khattala-before-his-capture.html. Khattala was indicted with additional charges in June and October of 2014, some of which carried the possibility of the death penalty.Karen DeYoung et al., “U.S. captured Benghazi suspect in secret raid,” Washington Post, June 17, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-captured-benghazi-suspect-in-secret-raid/2014/06/17/7ef8746e-f5cf-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html; “Ahmed Abu Khatallah Indicted on Additional Charges for September 2012 Attack in Benghazi, Libya,” U.S. Department of Justice, October 14, 2014, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ahmed-abu-khatallah-indicted-additional-charges-september-2012-attack-benghazi-libya. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in October. Khattala also filed a motion requesting a court order to return to Libya and asking to forgo the death penalty on the basis that his seizure and interrogation by American authorities was unlawful. His request was denied by a federal judge in February 2016.Spencer S. Hsu, “Judge denies Benghazi suspect’s bid to be returned to Libya, spared U.S. death penalty,” Washington Post, February 2, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/judge-denies-benghazi-suspects-bid-to-be-returned-to-libya-spared-us-death-penalty/2016/02/02/716a6600-ca11-11e5-ae11-57b6aeab993f_story.html.

Khattala’s trial took place in a federal court in Washington, D.C., beginning on October 2, 2017.Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman, “At Trial, a Focus on the Facts, Not the Politics, of Benghazi,” New York Times, October 1, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/us/politics/benghazi-trial-ahmed-abu-khattala.html. Khattala’s role in the Benghazi attacks was heavily debated during the trial. Relying on Khattala’s alleged cell phone records and testimonies from three Libyan witnesses, prosecutors argued that he planned, organized, and directed the attacks, and that the attackers were fighters from his militia. The defense argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he directed the attacks, and also doubted the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony, given that the United States had paid them to be informants.Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html.

On November 11, 2017, Khattala was convicted on four counts relating to terrorism: providing material support for terrorism, conspiring to do so, destroying property and placing lives in jeopardy, and carrying a semiautomatic firearm during a crime of violence. He was sentenced to life in prison. However, he was acquitted of 14 other charges, including multiple counts of murder. The jury reportedly concluded that no evidence existed that Khattala himself fired shots or set fires during the attack, and remained unconvinced that Khattala held any responsibility for the second attack on the CIA base.Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage, “Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder,” New York Times, November 28, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/benghazi-attacks-trial-verdict-khattala.html.

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