US judge affirms charges in deadly Benghazi attacks

The inside of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after the attack on September 11 2012.  (Mohammad Hannon, AP File)
The inside of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after the attack on September 11 2012. (Mohammad Hannon, AP File)

Washington - A federal judge has refused to dismiss charges against a suspected Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the US Ambassador and three other Americans.

Lawyers for Ahmed Abu Khattala had asked a judge to throw out all but one charge in an 18-count indictment.

They argued that the indictment was overly broad and vague and that the Justice Department had overreached in charging Khattala with crimes that had occurred abroad, rather than in the United States.

But US District Judge Christopher R Cooper rejected those arguments in an opinion dated on Wednesday, though he did ask for additional arguments on two of the counts before ruling on those charges.

The judge said that while Supreme Court decisions have limited the extraterritorial reach of federal statutes, there are nonetheless situations in which criminal laws can be extended to cover conduct overseas.

Khattala was captured by US special forces in a June 2014 nighttime raid in Libya and brought to the US to face charges in the September 11-12 2012 attacks on a State Department compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA annex. The attacks killed four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya.

Khattala is awaiting trial in federal court in Washington on charges including providing material support to terrorists, murder of an internationally protected person and malicious destruction of federal property.

Defence lawyers have also urged Cooper to order Khattala to be returned to Libya as a sanction for what they call their client's illegal capture and interrogation, which took place aboard a Navy ship that brought him to the US.

Prosecutors have objected to the request, and Cooper's 49-page opinion did not address those arguments.

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