Benghazi suspect pleads not guilty in US court

2014-06-29 07:29
An empty bullet casing lies on the ground near one of the burned cars at the US Consulate after the attack in Benghazi, Libya. (Mohammad Hannon, AP)

An empty bullet casing lies on the ground near one of the burned cars at the US Consulate after the attack in Benghazi, Libya. (Mohammad Hannon, AP)

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Washington - The Libyan militant accused of masterminding the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks that have become a dramatic issue in US politics appeared briefly for the first time in an American courtroom, pleading not guilty to a terrorism-related charge nearly two weeks after he was captured by special forces.

In a 10-minute hearing held amid tight security on Saturday, Ahmed Abu Khattala spoke just two words, both in Arabic. He replied "yes" when asked to swear to tell the truth and "no" when asked if he was having trouble understanding the proceeding.

A grand jury indictment made public on Saturday said Abu Khattala participated in a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists in the attacks of 11 September 2012 that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

That crime is punishable by up to life in prison. The government said it soon would file more charges against Abu Khattala.

Breakthrough

US special forces captured Abu Khattala in Libya two weeks ago, marking the first breakthrough in the investigation. Officials had been questioning him aboard a Navy ship that transported him to the United States.

The prosecution reflects the Obama administration's stated position of trying suspected terrorists in the American criminal justice system even as Republicans call for Abu Khattala and others to be held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics say suspected terrorists don't deserve the legal protections afforded by the American court. The administration considers the civilian justice system fairer and more efficient.

During his initial court appearance, the defendant listened via headphones to a translation of the proceedings. He wore a two-piece black track suit, had a beard and long curly hair, both mostly gray, and kept his hands, which were not handcuffed, behind his back.

His court-appointed lawyer, Michelle Peterson, entered the not guilty plea. The judge ordered Abu Khattala's continued detention but did not say where he would be held.

The US Marshals Service said it had taken custody of Abu Khattalah, who now was confined to a detention facility in the capital region.


- AP
Read more on:    us  |  libya  |  benghazi attack  |  north africa
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