The State Department said Tuesday it is not worried that it took almost two years to capture the suspected leader of the 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked whether officials were disappointed that it took so long to catch Ahmed Abu Khattala, especially given that Khattala had given interviews to reporters since the attack. One reporter said Khattala was not in hiding, and was “hanging out in cafes and restaurants in Benghazi.”
But Psaki dismissed the idea that it took too long.
“The comparison to the fact that a member of the media… had contact with or interviewed this individual is not relevant,” she said. “That is not uncommon. It’s far from unprecedented for members of the media to interview terrorists or interview individuals along these lines.
“It’s not a surprise that an individual like this would show up for an interview. We don’t think he would show up for a scheduled meeting with the special forces.”
That led to a testy exchange after one reporter asked why the U.S. didn’t have a member of the special forces pose as a reporter to trap Khattala much earlier.
“We appreciate your view,” Psaki replied. “If you’re volunteering yourself for future endeavors, we’ll take that into account.”
When asked again to confirm that no one at State is worried about how long it took, she said “correct,” and then said State does not see the delay in capturing him as egregious.
“This is a case where there’s no one more committed than the leaders in the United States government… in apprehending those responsible for the horrific acts that occurred just a few years ago,” she said.
CNN interviewed Khattala in 2013, and the suspect gave a few interviews to print reporters before then. His capture came over the weekend, more than 20 months after the 2012 attack in Benghazi that left four American officials dead.
Psaki was asked repeatedly what changed on the ground that allowed special forces members to capture Khattala, but she declined to provide any further details.