A Libyan militant was convicted Tuesday of terrorism charges stemming from the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. But a federal jury found him not guilty of murder, the most serious charge associated with the rampage he was accused of orchestrating.
The federal jury in Washington deliberating for five days before returning its verdict against Ahmed Abu Khattala. Prosecutors accused him of directing an attack aimed at killing personnel and plundering maps and other property from the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Defense attorneys said their evidence against him was shoddy.
The mixed verdict spares him a life sentence, but it could still result in the 46-year-old Khattala spending decades in prison.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the attack, along with a State Department information management officer. Two more Americans died in a mortar attack at a nearby CIA complex.
The Sept. 12, 2012, attack became political fodder in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama’s administration of intentionally misleading the public and stonewalling congressional investigators, though officials denied any wrongdoing. Some in Congress were particularly critical of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the conflict.
But the trial, which opened Oct. 2, was free of political intrigue. It was one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in recent years in a U.S. civilian court, even though the Trump administration had argued such suspects are better sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Rather than being sent to Guantanamo, Khattala was brought to the U.S. in 2014 and questioned over 13 days aboard a Navy transport ship headed to the U.S. He was interrogated for days to obtain national security intelligence before being advised of his rights. A new team of FBI investigators then pressed him some more, this time to produce evidence prosecutors could present at trial.
Defense attorneys argued the interrogation tactic was illegal, but Khattala did identify other members of the Islamic extremist militia group blamed for the Benghazi attack. Among the men he pegged was Mustafa al-Imam, who was captured last month and faces trial in the same federal courthouse in Washington.