Jun 17, 2014 11:12 AM
U.S. Special Operations forces captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected leader of the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, in a secret raid that took place over the weekend, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Khattala is the first person connected to the attack, which left four Americans dead, to be brought into custody. Republicans have been extremely critical of the Obama administration for failing to bring to justice anyone involved in the attack despite the nearly two years that have gone by since it took place.
"The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans. 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," President Obama said in a statement following news of the operation. "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. We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks. We will remain vigilant against all acts of terrorism, and we will continue to prioritize the protection of our service-members and civilians overseas.
He also commemorated Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty, the four Americans killed in the attack.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the operation -- which was first reported by the Washington Post -- is not the end of the U.S. search for suspects, but "marks an important milestone." He called Khattalah a "key figure in the attack."
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that the raid was carried out Sunday in cooperation with law enforcement personnel. Khattala was being held in a secure location outside of Libya, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have departed the country. There were no civilian casualties, Kirby said.
The Obama administration in January named Khattala a global terrorist along with Sufian bin Qumu, the leader of the Derna branch of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. The branches of the Islamist militia in Benghazi and Tunisia were also designated foreign terrorist organizations.
Khattala was the first person charged in connection with the attack by federal prosecutors last August. CBS News Justice and Homeland Security correspondent Bob Orr reports that he has been put on a ship and is being interrogated. It is expected that he will eventually be read his rights and brought to D.C. to face criminal charges in federal court.
He told the Associated Press in 2012 that he was not involved in the Benghazi attacks but rather went to the U.S. compound to rescue men who were trapped inside. But other eyewitnesses said he was present at the attacks directing fighters.
Khattala began moving around within Libya more and more after U.S. special forces carried out a raid in Libya last October to capture Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader linked to the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa, Orr reports. The U.S. received intelligence indicating Khattala was possibly at a villa on the coast Sunday night, leading to his capture.
But one month after the attack he seemed unconcerned about the accusations of his involvement. In an interview with CBS News' Liz Palmer, he said that if the Libyan president was accusing him of perpetrating the attacks, "Then he should come to my house and arrest me."
"It is obviously good news that this terrorist is now in American custody, and I am grateful for the work of our military - assisted by the FBI - in capturing him," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, 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."
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the administration had been in touch with lawmakers for several days about the raid. It stood in contrast to the prisoner swap that secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, when the administration failed to give Congress the required 30-days notice before releasing detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Some Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said Khattala should be held at Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant. But Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she gave her full support to the administration's plan to gather intelligence from him and then prosecute him in federal court.
"Past cases against terrorists like Abu Khatallah have shown that we can obtain intelligence, convict terrorists and lock them away for a very long time. The U.S. criminal justice system has successfully convicted over 500 terrorists since 9/11, and I have full confidence in the ability of our federal courts," Feinstein said.
© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
2 days ago