- Grand jury hands down 17 more charges against suspected militant
- Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured in Libya and transferred to the U.S.
- He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of providing support to terrorists
Federal authorities filed 17 new charges against Ahmed Abu Khatallah, alleging that he was the ringleader of twin 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic and CIA compounds in Benghazi that killed four Americans.
A new indictment against Khatallah, 43, provides new details of the attack and what federal prosecutors say was his role in leading 20 armed men in the attacks carried out over more than seven hours. Previously, prosecutors charged him with a single count of providing material support to terrorists.
According to the indictment, Khatallah conspired with others "on or before Sept. 11, 2012" to attack the U.S. diplomatic post. "He believed the facility was being used to collect intelligence, that he viewed the U.S. intelligence actions in Benghazi as illegal," the document said.
"These additional charges reflect Ahmed Abu Khattalah's integral role in the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, which led to the deaths of four brave Americans," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
The indictment doesn't say how much planning was involved, and doesn't account for the possibility that the attack coincided with other attacks elsewhere in the Muslim world that targeted U.S. diplomatic facilities.
Republican critics have said the Obama administration failed to take sufficient measures to prevent the attacks. They also criticize officials for initially portraying the terrorist rampage as spinning out from street protests blamed on an anti-Islam movie produced in the United States.
Khatallah has pleaded not guilty to one count of providing material support to terrorists and will remain jailed until his trial, a federal magistrate ruled in July. He will be arraigned on the new charges on October 20. Ten of those charges, including murder, could carry the death penalty.
Authorities contend that Khatallah is a senior leader of Ansar al Sharia, whose members were among several militias that participated in the two-pronged armed assault.
Khatallah remained free for more than a year after the attacks, doing interviews with CNN and other media, prompting criticism of the Obama administration over how long it was taking to arrest the alleged attackers.
He was arrested in a military raid in Libya in June and charged in federal court in Washington, D.C., mere yards away from Capitol buildings where he has become the center of political controversy.
Assistant Attorney General for national security John Carlin said in a statement Tuesday that the case "highlights our resolve to find and hold terrorists accountable wherever they may hide."
Prosecutors say the attack in Benghazi began around 9:45 p.m. with Khatallah and about 20 armed men attacking the main gate of the diplomatic mission. They set fire to buildings and Khatallah and others allegedly turned away emergency responders. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Patrick Smith, a mission employee, perished from wounds suffered in that attack.
The attackers retreated briefly around 10:15 p.m., according to the indictment, and then an hour later launched another attack on the mission's southern gate. They used assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and other explosives.
The attackers plundered what they could from the compound, then shortly after midnight, the indictment says Khatallah and others retreated to a camp operated by Ansar al Sharia.
Khatallah then led the attacks on the CIA annex beginning at 12:30 a.m. and again at 5:15 a.m., according to the indictment. Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, security officers at the CIA annex, were killed.
At a July hearing, defense lawyers contended the Justice Department hasn't provided evidence to support the case.