President Obama promised Tuesday that one of the suspected ringleaders of the deadly Benghazi attack will face “the full weight” of American justice after his capture over the weekend by U.S. special operations forces.
“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” Obama said in a written statement. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”
Earlier, the Pentagon confirmed a Washington Post report that elite U.S. commandos, working with FBI agents, had nabbed Ahmed Abu Khatalla over the weekend, roughly a year and a half after the September 11, 2012, attack.
“He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya,” the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said in a statement.
Four Americans - including the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens — died in the attack, which to this day fuels fierce Republican criticism of Obama’s upbeat election-year rhetoric about beating back al-Qaida.
Republicans have also harnessed the 2012 attack — and the Obama administration’s initially shifting explanation for what motivated it — to besiege Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time and now appears poised to run for president in 2016.
The Washington Post, which was first to report the news, said American troops, working alongside FBI agents, captured Khatalla near Benghazi.
Khatalla is expected to be arraigned in Washington, the Post said, noting that at least a dozen other extremists charged in connection with the attack in Benghazi have yet to be caught.
Obama, who authorized the operation, declared that Khatalla’s capture showed “the United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans.”
Obama paid tribute to “the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel” and underlined that “because of their courage and professionalism, this individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said that Khatalla faces criminal charges on three counts and that “we retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days.”
Holder underlined that “even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators.”
“This is our pledge; we owe the victims of the Benghazi attack and their loved ones nothing less.”
Key Republicans cheered the news but openly worried that traditional due process rights might lead Khatalla to refuse to speak to his American interrogators.
“The Obama Administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. “In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence. That intelligence is often obtained through an interrogation process.”
“It is obviously good news that this terrorist is now in American custody,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “I look forward to hearing more details regarding the raid, and I expect the administration to give our military professionals time to properly gather any useful intelligence he has.”