Libya is demanding the return of lead Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala, calling his capture a violation of Libyan sovereignty, BBC reports.
While Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Tuesday that the Libyan government had been notified in advance of the capture operation, Libyan Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said that they had not been, and that there was an outstanding Libyan warrant for his arrest.
“This attack on Libyan sovereignty happened at a time when Benghazi is suffering from many problems,” said Libyan foreign ministry spokesman Said al Saoud.
In an unusual move, the Obama administration tried to justify its actions in a letter to the UN Security Council, saying that his capture was an act of self-defense: “The investigation also determined that he continued to plan further armed attacks against U.S. persons. … The measures we have taken to capture Abu Khatallah in Libya were therefore necessary to prevent such armed attacks, and were taken in accordance with the United States’ inherent right of self-defense.”
According to international politics scholar David Bosco, “If the United States could claim that the Libyan government had endorsed or given its authorization to this operation, they would have been on solid legal ground internationally because of the right of sovereign governments to request assistance, including military assistance, from another government … This letter makes me think that the Libyan government is not on board with this operation and was certainly not publicly willing to condone it.”
This isn’t the first time the Obama administration has forcibly abducted a suspected terrorist from Libya. In October 2013 Special Ops forces captured Abu Anas al-Libi, wanted for helping plan the 1998 US Embassy bombings, in which over 200 people were killed. “Libi’s capture sent shockwaves through Libya,” according to Foreign Policy.
“Many Libyans were outraged at what they perceived to be an infringement of Libya’s sovereignty — and the Libyan authorities bore the brunt of the criticism, as many assumed that the government must have played some kind of role in the operation. The security agents who kidnapped former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Oct. 10, 2013, hinted that their attack was in retaliation for the raid to capture Libi.”
Khattala’s capture came at a difficult time for Libya, with renegade general Khalifa Haftar having launched a new anti-Islamic offensive in Benghazi that same weekend, despite government orders to stop.
While some have called for Khattala to be sent to Guantanamo, the Obama administration currently plans to try him in federal court.