Skip to main content

Lawmaker: If CNN can interview suspect in Benghazi attack, why can't FBI?

By John King and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz wants to know why the FBI hasn't interviewed Ahmed Abu Khattala
  • Some have described Khattala as the ringleader of the attack on the consulate
  • Khattala tells CNN that no American or Libyan official has asked to speak to him
  • He denies he had any role in the attack the left ambassador, three other Americans dead

Washington (CNN) -- A Republican lawmaker demanded Wednesday to know why investigators have not captured or killed any of the suspects in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, pointing out that CNN was able to find a man who some say was the ringleader in the assault that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead.

Eight GOP lawmakers are asking that incoming FBI Director James Comey brief Congress within 30 days about the investigation. They say the administration's inquiry into the September 11, 2012, attacks in Libya has been "simply unacceptable," according to a draft letter obtained by CNN.

"One of the pertinent questions today is why we have not captured or killed the terrorist who committed these attacks?" Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told reporters. "News out today that CNN was able to go in and talk to one of the suspected terrorists, how come the military hasn't been able to get after them and capture or kill the people? How come the FBI isn't doing this and yet CNN is?"

Chaffetz was referring to CNN's recent interview with Ahmed Abu Khattala, who Libyan and U.S. officials have described as the Benghazi leader of the al Qaeda-affiliated militia group Ansar al-Sharia -- one of many groups that filled the vacuum of authority following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.

He has been described as a "person of interest" in the investigation, according to officials.

In that interview, Khattala told CNN's Arwa Damon that he had not been contacted by any Libyan or American officials.

House panel subpoenas State Department over Benghazi

"Even the investigative team did not try to contact me," he told Damon, referring to the FBI.

Searching for answers in Benghazi
Benghazi attack: Who's responsible?
Return to Benghazi

When asked whether he would be willing to meet with investigators if they asked, Khattala said: "Yes, no problem. ...But not as an interrogation, as a conversation like the one we are having right now."

Damon spent two hours interviewing Khattala at a coffee shop at a well-known hotel in Benghazi, describing his demeanor as fairly relaxed. He allowed Damon to use an audio recorder to tape the conversation, but refused to appear on camera.

Khattala's narrative of the events that night was sometimes unclear and, at times, seemed to be contradictory, Damon said.

He admitted to being at the compound the night of the attack, but denied any involvement in the violence.

When he arrived at the perimeter of the compound, Khattala said he saw men carrying RPGs and medium guns, but that gunfire prevented him from getting close and entering the compound.

Opinion: Benghazi blame game is useless

Khattala said by the time he managed to get inside the compound, everyone had withdrawn. He said he did not see any fires.

Asked about allegations he may have masterminded the attack, Khattala and two of the men he brought with him to the interview "burst out laughing," Damon said.

Khattala does not appear to be a man who is in hiding, having granted interviews to The New York Times, Reuters and other news agencies in the weeks following the Benghazi attack.

"Rumors continue to swirl about the whereabouts of suspects involved in the attack," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Comey, who will replace Robert Mueller as FBI director in September.

"The FBI continues to add pictures of potential assailants to its website and asks the Libyan people to assist with identifying the alleged perpetrators. We struggle to understand why we don't know more about those who attacked two U.S. compounds and murdered four brave Americans. "

The FBI did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment on the letter.

The letter was initiated by Chaffetz and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, two of the fiercest critics of the administration's Benghazi response.

Others who agreed to sign the letter included Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. On the House side, Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee leading the House Benghazi investigation, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio signed the letter.

In the letter, the lawmakers wrote: "We encourage you to be aggressive in your investigation to properly hold accountable those who attacked our compounds in Benghazi. We owe the families of those killed, and the people of this nation, answers to who was responsible and ensure they are held accountable."

The attack at the Benghazi diplomatic compound has become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the administration and Republicans, who accuse it of not bolstering security before the attack, of botching the response to it and of misleading the public for political gain less than two months before the November election.

White House releases Benghazi e-mails

The GOP suggests the administration removed specific terror references and stuck to an explanation advanced by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in television appearances -- later proved untrue -- that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim film that was produced in the United States.

The White House and its allies in Congress have said any confusion and conflicting information in the early hours and days after the assault stemmed from the "fog of war," not any deliberate effort to mislead the public.

CNN's John King reported from Washington and Chelsea J. Carter wrote from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:23 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wilson Raj Perumal tells CNN how he rigged World Cup games: "I was giving orders to the coach."
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
He should be toddling around a playground. Instead, his tiny hands grip an AK-47.
updated 12:52 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
CNN's Will Ripley travels to North Korea, visiting an international wrestling festival and a slide-filled water park.
updated 5:20 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Our whole solar system appears to be inside a searing gas bubble, scientists say.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
In a raid on a luxury apartment complex, agents caught up with a French-Algerian man they accuse of bringing back terror to Europe.
updated 8:02 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
One journalist murdered, another still being held by ISIS -- a ransom negotiator talks to CNN about trying to get a hostage home alive.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Was a police officer justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown?
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Don't like the country you live in? Meet the people who created their own "micronations."
updated 2:35 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
South Africa Music Legends stamps
Artist Hendrik Gericke puts a spotlight on iconic performers from South Africa in these incredible monochrome illustrations.
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
We asked you what you would like to know about Ebola. Experts answer some of your most common questions and concerns.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT