By Libya Herald reporters.
Tunis, 28 November 2017:
The Libyan who Washington prosecutors claimed was the mastermind behind the 2012 assault on the Benghazi US special mission, in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three others Americans died, has been cleared of 14 of the 18 charges against him.
But though a jury found Ahmed Abu Khattalah not guilty of organising and actually taking part in the murders, he was convicted on four lesser terrorism charges which mean that the 46 year-old former construction worker could still face 60 years in jail.
After five days of deliberations at the end of a seven-week trial in a Washington courtroom not far from the White House, jurors decided that Khattalah had provided material support for terrorism, had maliciously destroyed and damaged dwellings and property and had carried a semi-automatic weapon during a crime of violence.
Khattalah was seized in a US special forces raid in Benghazi in July 2014. Shortly before this, another prime suspect in the mission attack, Faraj Al-Shibli, was found shot dead near Marj after being abducted by gunmen.
Khattalah’s lawyers said their client had been drawn to the blazing US mission out of curiosity. The prosecution produced surveillance footage and phone records, allegedly supplied by Libyan sources, to show the accused’s involvement was far more than that of a bystander. They also relied in part on the testimony of three Libyans, one of whom contacted Khattalah after the attack presenting himself as a businessman prepared to fund him and the small militia he had built up during the Revolution.
This witness who gave evidence under the pseudonym “Ali Majrisi” testified that in 2013, Khattalah had said of the attack: “I intended to kill everybody there, even those who were at the airport”. It emerged in court that “Majrisi” had been paid $7 million by the US, part of the reward that Washington had offered for evidence that would lead to a finding of guilt.
Khattalah is the first person to be convicted in connection with the Benghazi mission murders. At the end of last month, a second Libyan, named as Mustafa Al-Imam was seized by US special forces near Misrata.