Libyan Suspect in Benghazi Attack Pleads Not Guilty in Washington

Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khatallah is suspected in the 2012 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Libyan militia leader pleaded not guilty in federal court on Saturday to a federal terrorism charge in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah arrived at the U.S. District Court in Washington on Saturday morning and was charged with providing material support to terrorism at a hearing in U.S. District Court.

Khatallah had been held aboard the USS New York, an amphibious transport ship, after his seizure on June 15 by U.S. special operations forces in a raid on the outskirts of Benghazi. He is expected to be prosecuted in the U.S. criminal justice system.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. Khatallah is charged with killing a person on U.S. property, a firearms violation and providing material support to terrorism.

The charges were filed in July 2013 but kept under a court seal until this month.

Khatallah's capture was a victory for President Barack Obama, who has been accused by Republicans of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the 2012 attacks for political reasons and being slow to deliver on promises of justice.

Republicans also said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to take steps to ensure the safety of American diplomatic personnel, an issue that is still resonating as Clinton considers running for U.S. president in 2016.

Some Republican lawmakers had called for Khatallah to be taken to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for military prosecution, but Obama's policy has been to try terrorism suspects caught abroad in the U.S. justice system.