An American jury found Ahmed Abu Khatallah not guilty on four charges of murder stemming from a 2012 terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
The attack, which made headlines and lingered throughout last year’s presidential election, claimed the lives of four American citizens. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was among the dead, following an assault which involved the use of automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Abu Khatallah was found guilty on four federal charges, which CNN summarizes as:
- Conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists.
- Providing material support and resources to terrorists.
- Using, carrying and discharging a semi-automatic assault rifle during a crime of violence.
- Maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and property, and placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and attempting to do the same.
However, the accused terrorist was absolved of four separate murder charges, including that of the late ambassador.
CNN reports that, upon sentencing, Abu Khatallah could face penalties ranging from 10 years in prison to a life sentence. Each of the counts on which he’s been successfully indicted carry penalties of up to 15 years’ incarceration.
The last charge – maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and properties within the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States – carries a minimum mandatory sentence of a decade.
After detaining and formally charging Abu Khatallah in 2016, the Justice Department – then under the guidance of the Barack Obama administration – announced that it would not seek the death penalty. Rather, federal prosecutors hoped to ensure the terrorist would live out his life behind bars.
Among the dead in Benghazi were two CIA contractors.
The verdict prompted the agency’s director, Mike Pompeo, to issue a short message internally.
In court, federal prosecutors tried to frame Abu Khatallah as a fanatical terrorist and cold-blooded killer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, he hates America, and that’s why he committed this attack,” said federal prosecutor Michael DiLorenzo as part of his closing statement to the jury.
“He was there to attack the mission facilities. He was there to kill Americans.”
Nevertheless, prosecutors were unable to prove that Abu Khatallah had played a critical role in killing the mission employees. Although the man was present and apparently among the strategic, on-scene leaders of the assault, he never personally fired the ordinance which caused the four deaths.
Federal prosecutors, CNN reports, still tried to suggest that Abu Khatallah’s actions made him as culpable as the killers themselves. While he didn’t “light the fires or fire the mortars,” prosecutor John Crabb told juries that he’d gotten others “to do his dirty work.”
Defense attorney Michelle Peterson tried to persuade the jury otherwise, saying there was “no evidence” that her client hated America.
“They want you to hate him,” she said.
Peterson also attacked the credibility of three Libyan witnesses brought to the stand by the federal government. Among them was a man known only by the pseudonym “Ali Majrisi,” who received $7 million in exchange for taking the stand.
“Boy, did he get paid well,” said Peterson, who frequently referred to Majrisi as “the $7 million man.”
Majrisi, according to CNN, assisted in Abu Khatallah’s capture in June of 2014. Intelligence assets, including Majrisi, lured Abu Khatallah to a villa near Benghazi, where he was captured and later brought to the United States.
For years, Abu Khatallah was the only suspect in American custody accused of participating in the Benghazi attack.
Only recently did President Trump announce that another man, Mustafa al Imam, had been nabbed in relation to the incident.