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US captures prime suspect in Benghazi consulate attack

June 18, 2014 09:42 IST

The White House has ruled out sending Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key suspect in the attacks at the United States consulate in Benghazi in September 2012, to the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center and asserted that he would be tried through the federal court system.

Khatallah was arrested by the US special forces in a secret operation in Libya on Sunday and is currently in US custody in a secure location outside the US and en route to the country to face the charges against him.

"Some have suggested that he (Khatallah) should go to GTMO (Guantanamo). Let me rule that out from the start," said Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the national security council, the White House.

"The administration's policy is clear on this issue: we have not added a single person to the GTMO population since President Obama took office, and we have had substantial success delivering swift justice to terrorists through our federal court system," Hayden said, as several lawmakers urged the Obama administration that he be tried at the high profile terrorist detention center in Guantanamo.

"Indeed, since 9/11, we have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists," she said.           And there has been several examples in this regard, she pointed out.

Responding to questions on the operation, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "This was a unilateral US operation. It was run and done under the operations of the United States."

Earlier in the day, lawmakers appeared to be divided on where the Libyan terrorist be treated.

"I fully support the administration’s efforts to gather intelligence from Abu Khatallah and prosecute him in federal court," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein.

Whereas top Republican Senator Marco Rubio demanded that the Obama administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation.

"In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence. That intelligence is often obtained through an interrogation process," he asserted.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy argued against Khattala being sent to Guantanamo. "I look forward to his prosecution in the US court system...We will try Khattala just as we have successfully tried more than 500 terrorism suspects since 9/11," he said.

In 2010, Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, plead guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2012, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber," was sentenced to life in prison, Hayden added.

In April 2011, the United States captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali national and member of the al-Shabaab who had close associations with the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"He pled guilty to a range of charges including material support to the al-Shabaab and the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We acquired very valuable intelligence from Warsame," she said.

Also in October 2013, the US captured Abu Anas al-Libi and is currently prosecuting him in the southern fistrict of New York in connection with his alleged role in Al Qaeda's conspiracy to kill US nationals and to conduct attacks against US interests worldwide.

And in March this year, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former associate of Osama bin Laden who conspired to kill US nationals, was convicted in the southern district of New York, the White House official said.

Image: A protester reacts as the US consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames. Photograph: Esam Al-Fetori/Reuters

Lalit K Jha