Washington: A Libyan man accused of masterminding the 2012 Benghazi attacks at a US mission and CIA annex that killed an ambassador and three other Americans was cleared of murder but convicted on lesser terrorism charges by a federal court jury this week.
The court did not set a date for sentencing. Ahmed Abu Khatallah, 46, a former construction worker, may be jailed for 50-60 years for destroying US government property, carrying a semi-automatic weapon during the attacks and providing support to a terror organization to stage the deadly raid which took place on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 attack. The court cleared him of 14 of the 18 charges against him.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said a small measure of justice was meted out.
Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the first attack at the US mission along with Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department officer. Eight hours later, security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in a mortar attack at a CIA complex nearby. The attacks were carried out by some 20 men armed with grenades and heavy weapons.
The trial, which opened on October 2, was seen as a test case for foreign terror suspects forcibly brought to the US and put on trial. Based on a tip-off by a local informant, US Special Forces had snatched Khatallah from a seaside villa in Libya three years ago and questioned him aboard a navy ship for a week before handing him over to the authorities.
The Libyan informant, who collected a $7 million reward and was granted asylum in the US, testified during the trial that Khatallah planned the attack. But prosecutors lacked evidence to show Khattala fired bullets to kill the four Americans. Their case was based on the testimony of “paid” informants.
Khattalah is the first person to be convicted over Benghazi mission attack. Mustafa al-Imam, another suspect seized from Libya by the US, will now face trial for his alleged role in the attack.
The Benghaz attack served as cannon fodder for Republicans during the 2012 US presidential campaign.