U.S. prosecutors filed a sealed criminal complaint against several suspects in the 2012 attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, including a Libyan man suspected of playing a leading role, according to two U.S. officials.
Ahmed Abu Khattalah, who investigators said is a leader in in the group Ansar al-Sharia, was charged in connection with the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, said the officials, who were briefed on the case and asked not to be identified discussing the complaint. They declined to specify the charges.
Khattalah is the first individual charged in an attack that has become a political flashpoint between President Barack Obama’s administration and congressional Republicans. The officials declined to say yesterday whether efforts had been made to detain Khattalah.
Several other suspects have been charged along with Khattalah in connection to the attack, one of the officials said. The charges, all under seal, mark the first law enforcement action in the U.S. investigation. The official declined to how many people had been charged.
The FBI has been investigating the deadly attack and released photographs of three men in May who the agency said were at the U.S. post on the night of the attack.
Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers in May that the results of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry would be released in the near future.
“We are at a point where we have taken steps that I would say are definitive, concrete and we will be prepared shortly I think to reveal all that we have done,” Holder said in May 15 testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee.
Andrew Ames, a Justice Department spokesman, said the investigation is “ongoing” and declined to comment on any charges. “It has been, and remains, a top priority,” he said.
The filing of the charge was reported earlier by CNN.
Republican lawmakers have criticized Obama’s administration over its handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, saying it didn’t adequately respond when the assault was under way, misled the public afterward about the nature of the incident and then attempted to cover up its failures.
House Republicans have conducted an investigation into the attack and the administration’s response -- something Obama dismissed in May as a “political circus.”
The Benghazi assault initially became an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, and since then Republicans have accused the administration of playing down links to terrorism for political reasons.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is conducting a probe into the events surrounding the night’s attack and Speaker John Boehner has continued to push for more details. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said the administration’s account of the attack has been intentionally misleading.
Then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack using talking points developed by the CIA in consultation with the State Department and White House.
The talking points erroneously portrayed the assault on the U.S. compound as beginning with a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islamic video that was hijacked by extremists. The administration later acknowledged the account was incorrect.
Administration officials defended their actions, saying that the talking points were crafted just four days after the attack as intelligence agencies were still sorting through information about its cause and perpetrators. They said they wanted to be cautious in public comments to avoid influencing the investigation that was under way.
In the face of Republican opposition, Rice withdrew her name from consideration as Obama’s nominee for secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton. Rice was later named as Obama’s national security adviser, a position that isn’t subject to Senate confirmation.
Lawmakers have also criticized the perceived slow pace of the criminal investigation into the attack -- something FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged in congressional testimony was at least in part due to the instability in Libya.
“The bottom line is to assure the security of our people when we went in,” Mueller, whose term as FBI chief ends next month, told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee in June. “When we could assure the security of our persons, we did go in and do our on-sight review.”
Issa, a California Republican, called on law enforcement officials to detain Khattalah “without delay.”
“Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers will only put American lives at further and needless risk,” he said in a statement.
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