A US federal judge on Wednesday ordered the suspected ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi held without bail until his trial on terror-related charges.
Judge Deborah Robinson sided with federal prosecutors, who argued that Ahmed Abu Khatallah posed a “serious danger to others” and was a clear flight risk because he has no ties to the United States.
Assistant US Attorney Michael DiLorenzo also emphasized that the “seriousness of the offense” allegedly committed by the Libyan national necessitated keeping him behind bars.
Abu Khatallah, who was captured last month by US commandos in Libya, has been charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists resulting in death — that of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The suspect, who is in his 40s, has pleaded not guilty. He could face life in prison if convicted on that charge, but the government has said he will likely face other charges, some of which could be punishable by death.
He appeared for the 20-minute hearing Wednesday dressed in a green prisoner jumpsuit. He was not in handcuffs and his hair was disheveled. He still had a thick salt-and-pepper beard.
In court documents filed late Tuesday, prosecutors said that “the evidence against the defendant is strong” and that he had given “voluntary statements corroborating key facts.”
“The defendant’s participation in the attack was motivated by his extremist ideology,” prosecutors said in the filing.
“The defendant has repeatedly expressed his hatred of Americans and his efforts to target American and Western interests.”
Prosecutors also contend that Abu Khatallah continued “to communicate his plans for additional deadly attacks to other extremists and encourage them to carry out those plans.”
On September 11, 2012 gunmen stormed the US mission in Benghazi and set it ablaze in a brazen attack that sparked a highly politicized debate in Washington.
Abu Khatallah’s lawyer Michelle Peterson did not oppose her client’s continued detention, but said the government’s case against him was lacking.
It is “not even obvious that he’s directly involved in the incident,” Peterson told the court.
She challenged the government’s contention that he was dangerous, saying it was based on the fact that he was carrying a loaded handgun when he was captured.
Peterson noted that Abu Khatallah had spent decades fighting the regime of late Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, and that being armed when living near Benghazi was not unusual.
A new hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.