The United States announced on Tuesday that it had captured a suspected ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in a secret operation over the weekend.
US forces captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah in Libya on Sunday with the help of law enforcement personnel and were holding him at a secure location outside the country, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Khatallah was being held aboard an American ship after he was grabbed on the outskirts of Benghazi in an operation carried out by US special operations forces.
Kirby said there were no civilian casualties in the operation and that all US personnel involved in the capture had left Libya safely. The Pentagon declined to discuss further details of the operation and it was not immediately clear whether there were non-civilian casualties.
In the first official reaction from Tripoli, the Libyan government condemned the seizure of Khatallah on its territory, describing the detention as an attack on their country's sovereignty.
“The government stresses its right to try Abu Khattala on its territories and according to its laws,” a government statement said.
The news of Khatallah’s capture is as a win for US President Barack Obama, who faced intense criticism over his administration’s handling of the attack.
Republicans had accused the Obama administration of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the attack for political reasons. They also said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to take adequate steps to ensure the safety of US diplomatic personnel, an issue that is still resonating as Clinton considers a run for the presidency in 2016.
"The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans," Obama said. "Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans."
Attorney General Eric Holder said the raid showed, "our nation's memory is long and our reach is far."
The United States informed the Libyan government of the operation to capture Khatallah after the fact, but Kirby would not say whether or not Washington gave advance notice to officials in Tripoli.
The State Department had identified Khatallah as a senior leader of Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan Islamist group it brands a "terrorist" organisation responsible for a spate of attacks and assassinations.
A US official said Khatallah would be charged and prosecuted through the United States court system, and would not be sent to prison at Guantanamo, Cuba.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-17