A federal jury on Thursday convicted a second Libyan militant of conspiracy in the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The jury in Washington delivered a partial verdict, finding Mustafa al-Imam, 47, guilty on one count each of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and maliciously destroying government property but deadlocking on 15 of 17 other counts, including the most serious charges of murder and attempted murder in the overnight attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. “Casey” Cooper directed jurors to continue deliberating when they return Monday, said a spokesman for Jessie K. Liu, the U.S. attorney for the District.
The verdict, on the fifth day of jury deliberations that followed a four-week trial, echoed the finding of a separate jury in November 2017 that found accused ringleader and Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, guilty of four of 18 counts but not directly responsible for the deaths of Stevens, State Department communications aide Sean Smith and CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Abu Khattala is serving a 22-year prison sentence handed down by Cooper, who presided over both trials.
Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador killed while in the performance of his duties in nearly 40 years.
Imam’s capture was ordered by President Trump, and his trial in civilian court marked the first of a foreign terrorism suspect captured abroad during his administration.
Imam faces maximum penalties of up to 15 years for conspiracy and 20 years for destruction of property.
After getting the split verdict in the initial Benghazi trial, the government switched out prosecution teams and delivered a more streamlined case against Imam in which they sought to fix accountability not only for the assault on the diplomatic mission but also for a second round of attacks hours later on a secret nearby CIA annex in which Woods and Doherty were killed in a rooftop mortar strike.
As they had done at Abu Khattala’s trial, prosecutors drew out testimony by Libyan witnesses paid millions for their assistance who said they saw or heard Abu Khattala take steps to plan, execute and claim responsibility for the attacks on what he called an illegal U.S. spy base in his home city.
They relied on records of calls to and from Abu Khattala’s cellphone, stolen from the Libyana mobile phone company, and surveillance video of Abu Khattala’s men among scores who overran the diplomatic mission.
Imam was captured by U.S. Special Operations forces in Misurata, Libya, on Oct. 29, 2017, one day before FBI agent Michael M. Clarke testified during Abu Khattala’s trial that Abu Khattala had implicated Imam — in questioning by U.S. investigators — as a person with whom Abu Khattala rode to and from the diplomatic compound the night of the attacks, and as the person shown in security videos carrying a looted map from the compound headquarters.
At Imam’s trial, a joint FBI terrorism task force officer testified that Imam gave three interviews after he had received his Miranda rights warning and before he invoked his right to an attorney. The statements came after Imam was shackled, gagged and blindfolded after being grabbed off a street, taken to a U.S. warship, and held in a 6-by-7-foot detention “pod,” testimony showed.
“I know why I’m here . . . because of Khattala,” Imam allegedly told agents, according to statements at trial, adding he traveled with him to the compound and took a phone at his order and a map on his own initiative. “The defendant put himself on the scene of the U.S. Mission during the time that that battle was being waged,” prosecutor Karen Seifert said in closing arguments.
Defense attorney Matthew Peed called Imam a “simple man” who worked as a grocery clerk, who militia members believed was mentally disabled because he was terrified of sleeping in the dark, and who was friends with Abu Khattala because they had met in prison before the attacks.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Al-Imam knew about this attack or agreed with it,” Peed said, arguing the defendant went home to bed before the dawn attacks at the CIA annex.
At least a dozen others are known to have been charged in sealed U.S. criminal complaints in connection with the Benghazi attacks, although none before Abu Khattala and Imam are known to have been apprehended.
Several State Department and CIA contractor security guards testified at trial, including those who suffered grievous injuries.
The attacks had generated partisan political venom toward then secretary of state and later 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.