One of the suspected perpetrators of the deadly 2012 Benghazi terror attacks has been captured by U.S. forces in a secret operation in Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader of the Ansar al-Sharia terror group, was captured near Benghazi over the weekend by American special operations forces working with the FBI, officials told the Washington Post.
President Barack Obama said in a statement that Khattala will “now face the full weight of the American justice system.”
“The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans,” Obama said. “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. I recently authorized an operation in Libya to detain an individual charged for his role in these attacks, Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The fact that he is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel. Because of their courage and professionalism, this individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system.”
The Obama administration has faced significant criticism for its response to the Benghazi attacks, first for initially labeling them a reaction to an anti-Muslim video instead of terrorism, and then for failing to make meaningful headway in bringing those responsible to justice.
Speaking in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Obama said he has maintained from the start that his ”absolute mission is to make sure to bring to justice those who were responsible.”
“When Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” Obama said. “And that’s a message I said the day after it happened and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly, because my first and most solemn duty as president and commander in chief is to keep people safe. There are a lot dangers out there and a lot of challenges and a lot with incredible courage and valor and dangerous situations, they need to know this country has their back.”
Obama approved the mission Friday night, Fox News reported. Khattala was placed on a U.S. Navy ship and was bound for the United States.
As TheBlaze TV’s For the Record reported, Khattala had spoken out in media interviews in which he acknowledged being in the area the night of the attacks that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but denied direct involvement.
A U.S. criminal complaint filed against Khattala last year accuses him of ”killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility involving the use of a firearm and dangerous weapon and attempting and conspiring to do the same” and of “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death.”
According to Fox News, there was no firefight during the capture.
“He didn’t know what hit him,” a source told Fox.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) welcomed the news of the capture and said in a statement he expects the administration to allow the military to question Khattala.
“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. 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,” Boehner said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) echoed Boehner’s words, saying the suspected terrorist should not be read his rights until he’s fully interrogated.
“The families of those who died in the Benghazi attack may now begin to get some measure of the justice they deserve,” McKeon said in a statement. “Before any prosecution process begins however, it is vital that Khatallah be fully interrogated. This act of terrorism was not committed by one man alone — all the perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice and we need as much intelligence as possible regarding the terrorist networks now spreading across Libya. For that reason, and to better protect the United States from future attacks, it is vital that we learn all we can from him before we read him his rights.”
This post has been updated.
TheBlaze’s Fred Lucas and Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.