A suspected organizer of the Benghazi attack was captured by U.S. forces in a secret raid over the weekend, The Washington Post reports.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, who Libyan authorities announced as a suspect shortly after the attack, is a leader of the Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah, a militant group seeking the imposition of strict Sharia law across Libya.
American officials said that he was captured near Benghazi and is being held “in a secure location outside Libya.” No casualties were reported.
While the Post characterized the capture as “a major victory for the Obama administration,” Khattala has met in public with journalists several times since the attack, prompting some to wonder why U.S. apprehension efforts had been unsuccessful for so long.
“Mr. Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments,” reads an October 2012 New York Times story, “Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.”
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz confronted the administration about this in August, after a CNN reporter met with Khattala in a Benghazi coffee shop. “News out today that CNN was able to go in and talk to one of the suspected terrorists, how come the military hasn’t been able to get after them and capture or kill the people? How come the FBI isn’t doing this and yet CNN is?”
Administration officials cited Libya’s instability as the reason for their inaction, saying that a raid “could lead to the toppling of [Libyan Prime Minister Ali] Zeidan’s government and increase the chaos in a country that the United States would like to see stabilize.”
The same weekend the U.S. captured Khattala, a “renegade general” launched an offensive against Islamic militants in Benghazi, “sparking some of the worst fighting in weeks, with up to 12 people killed and power supplies disrupted,” according to Reuters. Libya’s borders are also reportedly completely insecure: “The border is open day and night. Anyone who wants can cross it. There is no control,” said one Libyan politician recently. “Most [smugglers] are armed people, some of them drug dealers, some trade in weapons, goods and illegal migrants.”
No other suspects have been apprehended since the attack, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, in September 2012.