WASHINGTON – Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the suspected leader of a traumatic attack against American interests and servicemen in Benghazi, Libya, two years ago, was captured and taken out of country by United States commandos over the weekend.
After the successful twilight raid, the US plans on prosecuting Abu Khatallah, who is charged with conspiring with terrorists, murder during an attack on a federal US facility and use of a firearm in the crime.
“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” US President Barack Obama said of the operation – which he authorized in recent days.
“The fact that he is now in US custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel,” he said.
The White House lauded the raid as a military and moral victory, with no American casualties.
Abu Khatallah will now face the “full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.
Abu Khatallah faces criminal charges on three counts from the Department of Justice, after what the US attorney-general called a “thorough, unrelenting investigation across continents to find the perpetrators.”
US law enforcement coordinated with the Pentagon on the raid and have the suspect in custody, the White House said.
US officials said the option of a raid was on the president’s desk for over a year, but delayed out of fear that it might undermine the legitimacy of a fragile Libyan government.
“We have made it clear since that cowardly attack on our facilities that we would go to any lengths to find, apprehend and bring to justice those who perpetrated it and were responsible for the deaths of four Americans,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One.
“The capture of Abu Khatallah is not the end of that effort, but it marks an important milestone,” Carney said.
Four Americans died in the attack on September 11, 2012, in the second largest Libyan city, including Ambassador Chris Stevens – the first US ambassador killed since 1979. Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were the other victims of the terrorist attack.
Since then, the details and timeline of the raid as well as the White House’s messaging in its aftermath have been politicized by critics of the Obama administration.
Joining the president in his praise for those who executed the raid, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the State Department felt the loss of Stevens “acutely.”
“They volunteered to serve in a dangerous place because they believed in the power of the United States to help people,” Kerry said. “They represented the very best of America. We continue that mission in their name today.”
Praising the success of his armed forces, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the counterterrorism operation “another example of the extraordinary capabilities of the United States military,” in seeking justice for those who do Americans harm.