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Benghazi suspect Abu Khatallah ordered held until trial

By Evan Perez, CNN
updated 6:15 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brief detention hearing held in federal court in Washington
  • Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured this month in Libya and transferred to the U.S.
  • He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of providing support to terrorists
  • NEW: The defense claims that prosecutors are not backing up their allegations

Washington (CNN) -- The suspected ringleader of the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, will remain jailed until trial, a federal magistrate ruled on Wednesday.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah appeared at a brief detention hearing in federal court in Washington where he's accused of providing material support to terrorists.

Court documents released on the eve of the hearing allege he "conspired to participate and then participated" in the September 11, 2012, attack on the American outpost in eastern Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Many question handling of Benghazi case

He previously pleaded not guilty to the charge that carries a maximum life prison sentence. More are charges are possible.

Abu Khatallah, who is thought to be in his early 40s, was captured earlier this month in Libya and transferred to the United States last weekend.

Authorities contend that he's a senior leader of Ansar al Sharia, whose members were among several militias that participated in the two-pronged armed assault.

Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack. Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack.
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
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Photos: Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi Photos: Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi

Assailants armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades first blasted through the main diplomatic mission before setting it ablaze, the court papers said. Stevens and State Department information officer Sean Smith died there. A coordinated mortar assault on a nearby annex killed security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

"The defendant's participation in the attack was motivated by his extremist ideology," prosecutors said in the documents, which also alleged that Abu Khatallah "voiced concern and opposition to the presence of an American facility in Benghazi" days prior to the attack.

Obama under fire over Benghazi suspect

Arguing for his continued detention, prosecutors said that Abu Khatallah, since the attack, "has continued to make efforts to target American personnel and property" and "discuss with others his deadly and destructive intentions," prosecutors said.

But defense lawyers contend the Justice Department hasn't provided evidence to support the case.

CNN's Pamela Brown asked lead prosecutor Michael DiLorenzo about the claims from Abu Khatallah's camp regarding pre-trial discovery. He responded that prosecutors would try the case in court.

The Benghazi attack has become a political flashpoint with Republicans, especially, questioning security protections beforehand, the U.S. response during the assault, and the Obama administration's slow-to-evolve public explanation of what transpired.

GOP members also are scrutinizing how Hillary Clinton handled the matter. She oversaw U.S. diplomacy at the time as secretary of state, and questions about her responses and decisionmaking endure as she considers a run for president.

Benghazi attack timeline

Benghazi mastermind captured without a single shot fired

CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this story.

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