Libyan Suspect in Benghazi Attack May Face Death Penalty

A Libyan suspected of having a central role in the deadly attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, was indicted today on new charges that carry a possible death sentence.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured in a raid in Libya by the U.S. military in June and charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. A federal grand jury in Washington issued a second indictment today that charged Khatallah, 43, with murdering U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the new charges reflect Khatallah’s integral role in the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

“This case reminds us of the continued threat the United States faces abroad from terrorism,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement.

The three others killed in the attack were Sean Smith, a State Department employee, and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, two Central Intelligence Agency security contractors.

Breaching Gate

The indictment alleges that Khatallah was a leader of an extremist group that attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission, an assault that was motivated by his belief that the facility was an intelligence-gathering operation, the indictment says.

At about 9:45 p.m. local time, he and about 20 armed men breached the front gate of the facility and set fire to a building occupied by Stevens, Smith and another State Department employee. Smith and Stevens died in the inferno.

Khatallah and others continued to attack the compound throughout the night with handguns, semi-automatic assault rifles and grenades, the indictment says. Just after 5 the next morning, the attackers lobbed mortars into the compound, killing Woods and Doherty.

Shelli Peterson, one of Khatallah’s public defenders, said in an e-mail, “We would remind people that an indictment is not evidence, it is merely allegations.”

“I would suggest not rushing to judgment based upon political statements,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the first time the government got it wrong on Benghazi.”

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