A jury of 12 Americans began deliberations today to decide whether Ahmed Abu Khatallah was in fact a ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attack and is guilty of terrorism-related charges that could put him behind bars for life.
The trial for Khatallah, a Libyan citizen from Benghazi, lasted seven weeks. Prosecutors painted Khatallah as a key plotter in the attack that claimed four American lives and became a political lightning rod for years afterward.
"You will not hear the defendant was involved in the initial charge on the [U.S. diplomatic] mission. You will not hear that he lit the match... You will not hear that he fired the mortar. It does not matter," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. DiLorenzo said, according to The Washington Post. "Because a person is equally guilty as an individual who lit the match or fired a mortar, if they are a co-conspirator or an aider and abettor."
The prosecution's argument was propped up by the testimony of three paid Libyan informants, one of whom reportedly received $7 million from the U.S. for his role in luring Khatallah to his capture by U.S. special operations forces in Libya in 2014. One of the informants quoted Khatallah as allegedly confessing in 2013 that he wanted to "kill everybody there [in Benghazi]," according to the Post.
The defense, meanwhile, said the U.S. government was trying to use Khatallah -- who was the only Benghazi suspect of dozens in custody when his trial began -- as a scapegoat and argued that all three informants had striking credibility problems. Assistant Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson also said the prosecution was playing on the jury's emotions.
"They want you to hate him. That's what this case has been about. They want you to hate him enough to disregard holes in the evidence," Peterson said.
Before he was captured, Khatallah reportedly told a journalist he didn't have anything to do with the attack and only arrived at the compound with his men to "bring order" to the disturbance.
On the night of Sept. 11, 2012, dozens of armed militants first attacked a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, an eastern Libyan city on the Mediterranean coast. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and State Department technical specialist Sean Smith died in the assault when the building in which they were hiding was set on fire. The survivors from that compound managed to escape to a nearby CIA facility, but that too came under attack hours later. CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were struck and killed by a mortar blast. Doherty had led a rescue team to Benghazi from the Libyan capital of Tripoli and was killed with minutes of his arrival.
During the first week of the trial, Greg Doherty, Glen's older brother, told Code and Dagger he was still waiting on "some kind of justice" for Glen and the other slain Americans. Greg attended the early days of the trial and said he was struck by being that close to Khatallah.
"I don't know if I can describe the feeling, but that's what I've been doing all week, just looking at this guy," he said then. "It was like looking at something that you know is important and you don't know what it means."
Greg said at the time he believed Khatallah would likely spend the rest of his life in an American prison. It's unclear how long it will take before he finds out if the jury agrees.
Primary Source: Indictment Against Ahmed Abu Khatallah (PDF)
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