The man believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, appeared in U.S. federal court on Saturday, pleading “not guilty.”
Ahmed Abu Khatallah was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington D.C. and charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists.
The 43 year-old Libyan national is thought to have directed an attack on the consulate which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Khatallah was captured in a secret raid conducted by U.S. Special Forces earlier this month in which he was lured to a location outside of Benghazi and taken without incident.
After capture, Khatallah was held on the U.S.S. New York, located in the Mediterranean Sea, before being brought to the U.S.
Some lawmakers had opposed trying Khatallah in U.S. criminal courts, instead preferring to let the military handle it.
Shortly after Khatallah’s arrest, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called on the Obama administration to “immediately transfer [Khatallah] to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” according to CBS News.
Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz agreed, saying that the Libyan “belongs in Guantanamo and in the military justice system, not in the U.S. civilian court system with the constitutional protections afforded U.S. citizens.”
The administration has been accused of dragging its feet in apprehending Khatallah. He had was not very well hidden, having given interviews to reporters in which he scoffed at U.S. and Libyan authorities.
However, the accused terrorist claimed in those interviews – as he did in court Saturday – that he had no role in directing the attack on the consulate. In the interview, he said he showed up to the consulate to protest a controversial video that was critical of Muslims.
That video has been the focal point of a contentious debate in the U.S., after several Obama administration officials cited it as the catalyst for the attack.
Critics of the administration have argued that instead of a spontaneous attack, terrorists coordinated and pre-planned the onslaught for which the administration should have been prepared.
According to the New York Times, there is some concern among U.S. officials that providing Khatallah’s guilt in U.S. criminal court will prove difficult, given the hostile environment in which the investigation will be conducted.
But senior U.S. officials say they are confident they can prove Khatallah was behind the attack.
“We will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant’s alleged role in the attack that killed four brave Americans in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement.
“Capturing Ahmed Abu Khatallah and bringing him to the U.S. to face justice for his role in killing American citizens in Benghazi is a major step forward in our ongoing investigation,” said FBI Director James B. Comey. “Our work, however, is not over,” Comey added, saying that other culprits will be brought to justice.
Khatallah is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing on Tuesday. A status hearing will be held on July 8.