National Security

U.S. Commandos Catch Alleged Leader Of Benghazi Attack

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U.S. special operations forces have captured one of the men suspected of playing a key role in the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Ahmed Abu Khatallah has been associated with one of the militias involved in the attack that killed four Americans. Currently being held outside Libya, he will face trial in a U.S. federal court.



And I'm Robert Siegel. The United States has, in custody, a man they say was behind the terrorist attack in Benghazi. His name is Ahmed Abu Khatallah. President Obama announced the development earlier today.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yesterday our special forces, showing incredible courage and precision, were able to capture an individual, Abu Khatallah, who was alleged to have been one of the masterminds of the attack.

SIEGEL: That attack in 2012 left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Special operations forces grabbed Abu Khatallah on Sunday, and he faces criminal charges in a U.S. court. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. And Tom, what do you know about the military operation to capture Abu Khatallah?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, again, Khatallah, we are told, was captured on Sunday near Benghazi by not only U.S. special operations commandos, but FBI agents as well. Officials say there were no civilian casualties, no U.S. personnel were injured, and that the Libyan government was informed after the capture. Khatallah was taken to what's been called a secure location outside Libya. We're not told where, but likely a U.S. warship, Robert. When the U.S. has captured suspects like this before they've been taken to a ship. Now, he'll eventually make it to Washington, D.C., where he'll face those charges in U.S. District Court.

SIEGEL: Tell us about how much is known about Ahmed Abu Khatallah.

BOWMAN: Well, quite a bit - he's given numerous newspaper and TV interviews out in the open in Beghazi sitting in a cafe. Now, his account of what happened that night is different from what he's accused of. The U.S. is saying he orchestrated things. He says he was at the U.S. facility in Benghazi. He says he showed up after the attack was already underway.

SIEGEL: So based on what he said in the interview, he admits he was there, but he says he wasn't a ringleader.

BOWMAN: That's it, and basically, Khatallah says that he didn't even take part in the attack. He says he went into the compound trying to save some of the Libyan guards - said he wasn't directing anything. He was not a leader militia that supposedly ordered the attack. He wasn't even a member, he said. He ran another militia, he says. And here's something that's interesting, Robert. Abu Khatallah says that the attack originated with a video that set off protests at embassies around the region. He claims that those inside the embassy began shooting at this peaceful protest and then things escalated. Now that's pretty close to what the Obama administration said early about this version of events, and that proves so controversial - that a reaction to a video started all of this, and it was not an orchestrated terrorist attack.

SIEGEL: The crimes with which he'll be charged if - were committed in Benghazi, Libya. He's going to be tried in federal court in Washington?

BOWMAN: That's right.

SIEGEL: How does that work out?

BOWMAN: Well, that's where the indictment, you know, was read. The charges were leveled in Washington, D.C. And he'll face three charges - killing an American, supporting terrorism, using a firearm. And that's basically all we have now. It's a sealed affidavit, so not much detail.

SIEGEL: OK, thanks Tom. That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman on the capture of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attack.

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