The alleged mastermind of the 2012 Benghazi attack, Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured over the weekend without a single shot fired, U.S officials have said.
The United states commandos, law enforcement and intelligence watched the suspect for days before his capture which was very smooth.
Khatallah is being transferred to the United States on a U.S. Navy ship rather than by air to give investigators “maximum time to question him,” U.S. officials have said.
His arrest and detention marks the first by the United States in connection with the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The militia leader was lured to a location south of the city in eastern Libya and grabbed without a fight, multiple officials said. Intelligence provided by local Libyans was said to have been helpful, the officials said.
One former Libyan intelligence official expressed surprise Abu Khatallah was taken without a fight and noted that the alleged mastermind of the attack was well-guarded.
Abu Khatallah will be brought to U.S. soil to face charges “in the coming days” for his role in the attack that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens dead, said Edward Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
The September 11, 2012, attack continues to be a political controversy about U.S. security abroad, especially now that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a potential presidential candidate.
Abu Khatallah, who faces three federal criminal charges, will be tried in a U.S. court, said Attorney General Eric Holder.
“We retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days,” Holder said. “Even as we begin the process of putting (Abu) 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.”
Abu Khatallah was taken to a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean, according to sources. He is now undergoing questioning about the 2012 Benghazi attacks and anything else he knows about terrorist activity.
The U.S. Navy plans to transport Abu Khatallah to the United States on a ship, rather than by air, in order to give investigators “maximum time to question him,” U.S. officials said.
The plan also may be a necessity.
The ship isn’t large enough to land a plane that could carry Abu Khatallah to the United States. Finding countries in the region willing to allow their territory for use in the transfer would be a complicated task, according to the U.S. officials.
In recent days, Army Delta Force commandos, FBI and intelligence agencies were watching and waiting for Abu Khatallah, who went into hiding last year after a flurry of media interviews that seemed to mock any U.S. manhunt for him.
The Pentagon declined to discuss further details of the raid.
“I’m not going to get into specifics on the actual execution of the operation,” spokesman Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday.
Abu Khatallah is one of several people under indictment, but he is the only one captured, a law enforcement source said. If convicted, Abu Khatallah could face the death penalty.
Kirby said there were no civilian casualties in the operation, and all U.S. personnel involved have departed safely from Libya.