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Suspect In Benghazi Attacks Now On U.S. Soil, Pleads Not Guilty

This undated image obtained from Facebook shows Ahmed Abu Khattala, an alleged leader of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
This undated image obtained from Facebook shows Ahmed Abu Khattala, an alleged leader of the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

(This post was last updated at 3:55 p.m. ET.)

Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Libyan man the United States says played a key role on the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, is now on American soil.

In a short appearance at the federal court house in Washington, D.C., Khattala pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists.

NPR's Carrie Johnson is at the court house and reports:

"The justice department tells the U.S. magistrate judge they will add charges in the coming days. He pleaded not guilty during a 10-minute proceeding in D.C. federal court and the judge ordered him detained without bond. There will be a detention hearing July 2 and a status hearing July 8. He has a bushy long gray beard and wore a dark hoodie and dark pants."

Khattala is charged in connection to the attacks that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Khattala was captured by special forces in Libya almost two weeks ago.

The New York Times reports he was then put on a Navy warship and flown by helicopter to the mainland, where he will be brought to trial.

Here's a little background on Khattala from one of our previous posts:

"The United States filed charges against Khattala last summer.

"In interviews, Khattala has denied involvement in the attack, and as we've reported, he was living in the open.

"Khattala has been linked to the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia, which officials in Washington have suspected was behind the attack.

"In October 2012, The New York Times spoke to Khattala at a luxury hotel where he was 'sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.' "

Update at 4:15 p.m. ET. Face Full Weight Of Justice:

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder says that now that Khattala is on U.S. soil, he will "face the full weight of our justice system."

"We will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant's alleged role in the attack that killed four brave Americans in Benghazi," Holder said.

The Justice Department said Khattala was initially charged with three charges in a criminal complaint filed under seal last July. But on June 26, a federal grand jury indicted Khattala on one count "of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, knowing and intending that these would be used in preparation for and in carrying out a killing in the course of an attack on a federal facility, and the offense resulted in death."

Update at 11:47 a.m. ET. Documents Unsealed:

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that as the day progresses, we should expect Khattala to make an appearance in court, and we should expect some more documents to be unsealed.

Currently all we have a is a short charging document.

Carrie says, however, that we should not expect an FBI affidavit detailing Khattala's involvement.

Update at 10:06 a.m. ET. The Logistics:

The New York Times reports that the decision to file charges in the Washington, D.C., courthouse has raised some questions about the kind of logistics necessary to bring Khattala to trial there.

The paper explains:

"Nearly all the high-profile terrorists tried in federal court since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have been tried in New York or Alexandria, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington. The New York courthouse is connected directly to jails where the defendants are typically held, making it far easier to transport them for court appearances.

"The Washington courthouse is not connected to a jail, so every time Mr. Abu Khattala has to appear in court the government will have to move him with armed guards in armored vehicles.

"The streets of Washington are often filled with the motorcades of American politicians and foreign leaders. But the daily transportation of such a suspect could create the risk of an attack or sabotage, security experts said."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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