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Libyan Involved In Benghazi Attack Convicted Of Terrorism Charges


A Washington, D.C., jury delivered a verdict today against the first man to stand trial in the deadly attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The federal jury convicted Ahmed Abu Khattala on terrorism charges. But it acquitted him of the most serious charges, including murder. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, died in that 2012 attack. And with us to talk about this case is NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. And first, Ryan, tell us more about this mixed verdict.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, Abu Khattala is a Libyan national. And he faced 18 counts in all over his alleged role. And the verdict handed down today was - as you kind of mentioned, was a mixed bag for prosecutors. He was found guilty of material support to terrorism, of destroying property and of using a semiautomatic weapon during a violent crime. But as you noted - and this is significant here - Abu Khattala was found not guilty on the most serious charges against him, including the murders of the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans who were killed during the attack in Benghazi.

Now, still, on the counts he was convicted on, Abu Khattala faces significant prison time. He's not going to be roaming the streets or anything. Sentencing is still to be decided. That is going to come in the coming months. But we'll wait and hear what that's going to be.

SIEGEL: What case did the government present against Abu Khattala?

LUCAS: Well, government prosecutors portrayed him as a man with a burning hatred for the U.S. They said that he viewed it as the cause of the world's problems. And they said that in September 2012, he took action on that. They said that he orchestrated a group of armed men to storm the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. One Libyan witness in the trial said that Abu Khattala told him that he wanted to kill all Americans the night of the attack.

Now, in their closing arguments, government attorneys called Abu Khattala a stone-cold terrorist. They said he was committed to a fanatical agenda. But - and this is important - they acknowledge that he hadn't necessarily fired any shots. But they said that he was still guilty. In the closing arguments - and this is a quote - one of the prosecutors said, "you have not heard he lit the match or fired the mortar." It doesn't matter. They said he was guilty because he was a co-conspirator. He was an orchestrator of the violence.

Now, in their case, prosecutors used phone records, drone videos. Jurors also heard from State Department officials. There was moving testimony from them. There were current CIA officials who dressed in disguise. There were wigs and mustaches. They provided testimony. And there was also testimony from three Libyans, including a man who went by the name of Ali who was paid $7 million for his role. He befriended Abu Khattala and helped to lure him to a villa outside of Benghazi when he was captured by U.S. forces there.

SIEGEL: This was the case against Abu Khattala. What about what the defense said to counter the government's case?

LUCAS: Well, they said that the prosecution was trying to demonize him and make him guilty by association. They said that they - that the prosecution wanted jurors to hate him enough that they would disregard the holes in the evidence that was presented. They said that the government didn't have any solid evidence tying him to the attacks. And so they were kind of playing on the jurors' emotions. They said that there was no evidence that he was a mastermind of anything, certainly not enough to put him there on the night of the attack. And they accused the government of kind of making prejudicial arguments - talking about our ambassador, our men, the sort of jingoism appeals to American patriotism. And then most importantly, they said that informants couldn't be trusted because they were paid huge sums of money to say what the Justice Department wanted them to.

SIEGEL: And just very briefly - more trials to come in the Benghazi case?

LUCAS: Yes. There's a man by the name of Mustafa al-Imam who was picked up by U.S. forces in Libya in late-October. He is now in D.C. and is going to face trial for the Benghazi attack as the second individual.

SIEGEL: OK. NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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