Beng­hazi ‘plot­ter’ de­nies charges

Ac­cused flown from war­ship to court

Taranaki Daily News - - World -

Wash­ing­ton – The Libyan mil­i­tant ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing the deadly 2012 Beng­hazi at­tacks that have be­come a flash­point in US pol­i­tics has ap­peared briefly for the first time in an Amer­i­can court­room.

He pleaded not guilty yes­ter­day 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.

A grand jury in­dict­ment handed up un­der seal on Fri­day and made pub­lic yes­ter­day said Abu Khat­tala took part in a con­spir­acy to pro­vide ma­te­rial sup­port and re­sources to ter­ror­ists in the at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2012, that killed US 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.

US spe­cial forces cap­tured him in Libya two weeks ago, mark­ing the first break­through in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Of­fi­cials had ques­tioned Abu Khat­tala on a navy ship that trans­ported him to the US.

The prose­cu­tion re­flects the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s stated po­si­tion of try­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists in the Amer­i­can crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem even as Repub­li­cans call for Abu Khat­tala and oth­ers to be held at the US de­ten­tion cen­tre in Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

Crit­ics say sus­pected ter­ror­ists don’t de­serve the le­gal pro­tec­tions af­forded by the Amer­i­can court. The ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ers the civil­ian jus­tice sys­tem fairer and more ef­fi­cient.

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

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

The US Mar­shals Ser­vice said it had taken cus­tody of Abu Khat­tala, who now was con­fined to a de­ten­tion cen­tre in the Wash­ing­ton re­gion, end­ing a har­ried day for the Libyan.

Early yes­ter­day he was flown by mil­i­tary he­li­copter from the navy ship to a Na­tional Park Ser­vice land­ing pad in Wash­ing­ton, ac­cord­ing to a US of­fi­cial.

The vi­o­lence in Libya on the 11th an­niver­sary of the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks on the World Trade Cen­tre 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 politi­cis­ing 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 cafes and other pub­lic places, even af­ter the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion pub­licly named him as a sus­pect.

He is ac­cused of be­ing a mem­ber of the An­sar al-Shariah group, the pow­er­ful Is­lamic mili­tia that the US be­lieves was be­hind the at­tack.


Har­ried day: Ahmed Abu Khat­tala ap­pears in a Wash­ing­ton court­room, hours af­ter ar­riv­ing in the United States.

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