Heritage’s Charlotte Florance sat down with us to answer questions about the criminal charges filed in the terrorist attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Q. Who are the criminal charges filed against?
A. We don’t know all the suspects’ names, but the one confirmed is Ahmed Abu Khattalah, founder of a Libyan Islamist militia, Ansar al Sharia. Officials believe Khattalah was involved in the attack on the Benghazi consulate in Libya on September 11, 2012, that killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Khattalah has yet to be detained by U.S. authorities, but he admitted to reporters in October of last year that he was present at the scene of the attack. He has denied involvement in the attack.
Q. Why did it take so long to file criminal charges?
A. Little has been released by the Department of Justice on the charges because the case is still under seal. The charges come nearly 10 months after the deadly attack in Benghazi and only after increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers on incoming FBI Director James Comey to speed up the pace of the investigation.
Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff (CA), member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that the slow pace of the investigation has been frustrating and there are still a lot of missing pieces.
Q. Does Khattalah have links to al-Qaeda?
A. Ansar al Sharia has been linked to al-Qaeda. Following the Benghazi attack, intelligence officials intercepted phone calls between Ansar al Sharia and leaders from the North African al-Qaeda franchise, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM).
Q. Will U.S. or Libyan authorities ever catch Khattalah?
A. Despite doing multiple international media interviews including CNN, Reuters, and The New York Times, Khattalah has yet to be detained by authorities for questioning. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recently said anyone involved should be “questioned and placed in the custody of U.S. officials without delay.” In the ongoing investigation over the past 10 months, U.S. authorities have detained only two individuals for questioning, and only in May did the FBI release photos of persons of interest.
To date, Ali Harzi of Tunisia was detained for questioning for his supposed links to the attack but released in January on lack of evidence. A third suspect, Islamist militant Muhamed Jamal abu Ahmed, was arrested in Egypt in December, though his role in the attack remains unclear.