Ahmed Abu Khatalla, a suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attacks, has arrived in Washington, D.C., according to multiple reports.
Khatalla was apprehended by U.S. special forces and FBI agents south of Benghazi on June 15 and, according to a CNN report yesterday, was then interrogated by American officials aboard the USS New York for “most of the past two weeks.”
President Obama referred to Khatalla as a “mastermind” of the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, which have been a persistent source of conflict between his administration and congressional Republicans since. Khatalla’s capture was emblematic of U.S. commitment to finding the perpetrators, Obama said at the time.
“It’s a message to the world, that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice. Regardless how long it takes, we will find you.”
The Los Angeles Times says that security has been stepped up at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., where Khatalla is being held.
ABC News reports that the suspected Benghazi mastermind will likely be arraigned later Saturday and offered details about the charges Khatalla faces:
“A criminal complaint filed against Khattala earlier this year was unsealed after his arrest and accused the militant of ‘killing a person in the course of an action on a federal facility,’ providing and conspiring to provide ‘material support to terrorists resulting in death’ and using a firearm in relation to a violent crime.”
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, declined to offer any additional information beyond the fact that Khattala was in federal custody.
Khattala’s capture was a major step forward for the Obama administration in its efforts to find those responsible for the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left three dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. So far, he is the only suspect in U.S. custody.
But nabbing Khattala might be just the first step.
“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,” according to a White House statement at the time. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”
The fact that Khattala will face trial in federal court has drawn criticism from some on the right, including Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Many Republicans also alleged that the long gap between the attacks and the arrest as evidence that the administration did not make the investigation a high priority.
According to a Fox News poll out this week, 63 percent of Americans think that the Benghazi suspect should be tried by military tribunal rather than federal court.
But for others, especially on the left, the federal courts are a better option particularly because they appear to be more capable and efficient than the controversial military tribunals used at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
“It is incomprehensible why those who are perceived to take the hardest stance on terrorism advocate for a military commission system that is so obviously inferior and practically incapable of delivering justice on terrorists,” Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Think Progress.
As The New York Times points out, the federal courthouse where Khattala is being held is a mile from the White House. Following Saturday’s expected arraignment, he will likely be transferred elsewhere. Security in the area will almost certainly remain high for the trial of the lone Benghazi suspect in custody.