U.S. Special Forces troops with assistance from the FBI conducted a raid Sunday outside Benghazi to capture one of the alleged leaders of the 2012 attacks on the Benghazi, Libya, consulate and an annex that killed Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans.
Pentagon officials Tuesday confirmed that the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, said to be in his 40s, was in U.S. custody and was being held at an undisclosed location outside Libya.
Abu Khatallah would be brought to the U.S. for trial in federal court and not sent to the Guantanamo Naval Base detention facility, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Kirby would not disclose where Abu Khatallah would face trial, but last year the FBI filed a criminal complaint against him in federal court in the District of Columbia.
"There were no casualties civilian or otherwise" in the raid that took place Sunday night near Benghazi, Kirby said at a Pentagon briefing.
Libyan government officials were informed after Abu Khatallah had been taken out of the country, Kirby said.
"This was a unilateral U.S. mission. That should come as no surprise anyone, least of all the Libyan government," Kirby said.
Abu Khatallah gave TV interviews after the Benghazi attacks and reportedly was living openly in the area. When asked why it took so long to capture him, Kirby replied indirectly.
"Let's say for argument's sake he was living in plain sight. He's not anymore."
In a similar operation last October, a unit of the Army's elite Delta Force, along with members of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, conducted a raid inTripoli that led to the capture of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, a suspect in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.
At-Ruqai is currently awaiting trial in New York City.
In a statement, President Obama said that he recently authorized the raid to seize Abu Khatallah.
"The fact that he is now in custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel," he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the capture an example of "our unrelenting commitment to hold accountable those who harm American citizens."
The suspect's capture came as a House Select Committee was preparing for another round of hearings on the Benghazi attacks and the role of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in overseas security.
The House and Senate have already held 13 hearings on Benghazi that have produced more than 25,000 pages of documents.
Several of the staunchest critics of the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attacks said Abu Khatallah should be sent to Guantanamo rather than face justice in a U.S. federal court.
"Guantanamo (is] where we put terrorists, where we apprehend them," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Where else can you take him to?"
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., called on the administration to interrogate Abu Khatallah at length before he is turned over to the U.S. justice system and read his Miranda rights.
"It is vital that we learn all we can from him before we read him his rights," McKeon said in a statement.
Last year, the FBI filed a criminal complaint against Abu Khatallah charging him with "killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility" and providing material support to terrorists. Conviction on the charges could bring the death penalty.
In January, the State Department designated Abu Khattala as a terrorist and senior leader of the Ansar al-Sharia terrorist group that has been active in eastern Libya since the fall of the late dictator Moammal al-Gaddafi.
The attacks on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, killed Ambassador Stevens and State Department security official Sean Smith. A few hours later, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty, two CIA contractors and former SEALs, were killed in a mortar attack on a CIA annex about a mile from the consulate.
The focus of several hearings on Benghazi has been the lack of adequate security at the consulate and on whether the military could have mounted a response or rescue operation.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has testified frequently that U.S. military assets in the region could not have reached Benghazi in time to make a difference.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com
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