Al­leged Beng­hazi mas­ter­mind pleads not guilty in D.C. court

Post-Tribune - - Nation / World -

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 be­came 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 was 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 gray, 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, Michele 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. U.S. spe­cial forces cap­tured Abu Khat­tala in Libya two weeks ago, mark­ing the first break­through in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

DANA VERK­OUTEREN/AP

This artist’s ren­der­ing shows Judge John Fac­ci­ola on Satur­day swear­ing in the de­fen­dant, Ahmed Abu Khat­tala, as his at­tor­ney Michelle Peter­son looks on.

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