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U.S. charges Libyan militia leader in Benghazi attack

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames after the deadly attack on Sept. 11, 2012. (ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI/REUTERS)

Justice Department officials have filed criminal charges against the leader of a Libyan militia in connection with the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, according to two law enforcement officials.

The criminal complaint charging Ahmed Abu Khattalah in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack is under seal at a federal court in Washington, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The officials declined to specify the nature of the charges, but they mark the first known case in which the Obama administration has formally brought charges in the attack.

The FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment.

“The department’s investigation is ongoing,” said Justice Department spokesman Andy Ames. “It has been, and remains, a top priority. We have no further comment.”

Republican legislators have criticized the Justice Department for moving slowly on the investigation into the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Justice officials, however, have hinted in recent months that investigators are making progress. When Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. testified in May before the House Judiciary Committee, he was asked for an update on the probe, then eight months old, by Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.).

“I can’t be definitive other than to say that the investigation is ongoing, that we are at a point where we have taken steps that I would say are definitive, concrete, and we are — we will be prepared shortly, I think, to reveal all that we have done,” Holder said.

In an answer to another congressman, Holder added, “We have made very, very, very substantial progress in that investigation.”

The charges against Khattalah were first reported by CNN on Tuesday.

The federal investigation into the Benghazi attacks, led by FBI agents from the New York field office and some from the Washington field office, was hampered from the start. Security concerns delayed the arrival of FBI agents in Benghazi for weeks. By the time they arrived, the scene had been looted by militants.

Republican lawmakers have spent months pressing for answers in the Benghazi attack. Their probe centered on whether the Obama administration had provided sufficient security for U.S. personnel there and whether officials had deliberately misled the public about the nature of the assault in an attempt to avoid political repercussions in the midst of a presidential campaign.

Law enforcement officials said the charges against Khattalah were filed some time ago. The revelation of the charges comes as the United States has closed 19 U.S. embassies across the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere in response to a threat from al-Qaeda.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.



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