U.S. jury clears Libyan of most serious charges in Benghazi attack

Benghazi Suspect Escapes the Death Penalty

A United States federal court acquitted the alleged ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attack against an American consulate in Libya of the most serious charges, local media reported late Tuesday.

The jury reached its verdict after five days of deliberations.

Khatallah is the only person who has been charged for the attack on the USA diplomatic compound in Benghazi, though at least 20 militants stormed the facility. The Justice Department alleged that "he conspired with others to attack the facilities, kill USA citizens, destroy buildings and other property, and plunder materials, including documents, maps and computers containing sensitive information".

The Justice Department did not seek the death penalty in this trial.

The US State Department has called Khattala a "senior leader" of a Benghazi affiliate of Ansar Al-Sharia, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by American officials. "Khatallah's sentencing is to follow; but no term in prison will bring our people back".

Ahmed Abu Khattala, a leader with the Ansar al Sharia militia, had fought to depose Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, but made a decision to attack U.S. targets in 2012, the court heard.

"U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that Khatallah was not mistreated by U.S. Special Operations Forces during their nighttime capture raid, brushing aside photos of the defendant with bruises and gashes on his face".

He was first questioned by USA intelligence officials and later by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Khatallah's defense attorney argued his client did not organize the attack, but was simply a witness who went to the compound to because he thought there was a protest and wanted to see what was happening.

Once the trial kicked off, prosecutors sought to portray Khatallah as consumed by burning hatred for the US, calling him a "stone-cold terrorist" during arguments in the courtroom.

"They want you to hate him".

Hillary Clinton, who was then Secretary of State, was criticised in the wake of the incident by prominent Republicans claiming she had failed to provide adequate security for the men, ignored warnings of violence and did not respond quickly enough. He faces up to 60 years in prison on the collective charges.



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