Al­leged Beng­hazi plot­ter ap­pears in U.S. court

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS WORLD - By Mark Sher­man, Pete Yost and Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON — The Libyan mil­i­tant ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the deadly Beng­hazi at­tacks that have be­come a flash­point in U.S. pol­i­tics ap­peared briefly for the first time in an Amer­i­can court­room, plead­ing not guilty Satur­day to a ter­ror­ism-re­lated charge nearly two weeks af­ter he was cap­tured by spe­cial forces.

In a 10-minute hear­ing held amid tight se­cu­rity, Ahmed Abu Khat­tala spoke just two words, both in Ara­bic. He replied “yes” when asked to swear to tell the truth and “no” when asked if he was hav­ing trou­ble un­der­stand­ing the pro­ceed­ing.

Abu Khat­tala be­comes the most re­cent for­eign ter­ror sus­pect to be pros­e­cuted in Amer­i­can courts, a fo­rum the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tends is both fairer and more ef­fi­cient than the mil­i­tary-tri­bunal process used at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba. The case is be­ing tried in Wash­ing­ton de­spite con­cerns from Repub­li­cans in Congress who say he should not be en­ti­tled to the pro­tec­tions of the U.S. le­gal sys­tem.

A grand jury in­dict­ment handed up un­der seal Thurs­day and made pub­lic Satur­day said Abu Khat­tala par­tic­i­pated in a con­spir­acy to pro­vide ma­te­rial sup­port and re­sources to ter­ror­ists in the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Am­bas­sador Chris Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans.

That crime is pun­ish­able by up to life in prison. The govern­ment said it soon would file more charges against Abu Khat­tala.

Dur­ing his ini­tial court ap­pear­ance, the de­fen­dant lis­tened via head­phones to a trans­la­tion of the pro­ceed­ings. He wore a two-piece black track suit, had a beard and long curly hair, both mostly grey, and kept his hands, which were not hand­cuffed, be­hind his back.

He looked im­pas­sively at U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge John Fac­ci­ola for most of the hear­ing. Abu Khat­tala’s court-ap­pointed lawyer, Michelle Peter­son, en­tered the not-guilty plea. Fac­ci­ola or­dered the de­fen­dant’s con­tin­ued de­ten­tion, but the judge did not say where Abu Khat­tala would be held.

The U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice said it had taken cus­tody of Abu Khat­ta­lah, who now was con­fined to a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in the cap­i­tal re­gion, end­ing a har­ried day for the Libyan.

U.S. spe­cial forces cap­tured Abu Khat­tala in Libya two weeks ago, mark­ing the first break­through in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Of­fi­cials had been ques­tion­ing Abu Khat­tala aboard a navy ship that trans­ported him to the United States. He was flown early Satur­day by mil­i­tary he­li­copter from a navy ship to a Na­tional Park Ser­vice land­ing pad in the city’s Ana­cos­tia neigh­bour­hood, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial who was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the trans­fer pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

A U.S. of­fi­cial said Abu Khat­tala had been ad­vised of his Miranda rights at some point dur­ing his trip and con­tin­ued talk­ing af­ter that. The of­fi­cial wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by name and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. The na­ture of those con­ver­sa­tions wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear.

A crim­i­nal com­plaint filed last year and unsealed af­ter Abu Khat­tala’s cap­ture charged him with ter­ror-re­lated crimes, in­clud­ing killing a per­son dur­ing an at­tack on a federal fa­cil­ity. A new, sin­gle-count in­dict­ment will likely be su­per­seded by additional charges, prose­cu­tors say.

The vi­o­lence in Libya on the 11th an­niver­sary of the Sept. 11 at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­tagon quickly be­came a po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy at home.

Repub­li­cans ac­cused the White House, as the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion neared, of in­ten­tion­ally mis­lead­ing the pub­lic about what prompted the at­tacks. The White House said Repub­li­cans were politi­ciz­ing a na­tional tragedy.

Abu Khat­tala was a prom­i­nent fig­ure in Beng­hazi’s cir­cles of ex­trem­ists. He was pop­u­lar among young rad­i­cals and lived openly in the east­ern Libyan city, spotted at pub­lic places, even af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pub­licly named him as a sus­pect.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

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