WASHINGTON – Federal criminal charges have been filed against one or more suspects in the lethal attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, two law enforcement sources said Tuesday.
One of the sources said charges were filed under seal against Ahmed abu Khattala, a top Libyan militia commander who has admitted being at the scene of the nightlong attack by armed extremists on Sept. 11, 2012.
Ambassador Chris Stevens, an aide and two CIA contractors died in assaults on two U.S. compounds.
The sources declined to discuss details because the case is under seal.
The Obama administration has been under increasing political pressure, primarily from Republicans, to hold someone accountable for the attack. Critics charge that the Justice Department and FBI have not made a concerted effort to make arrests.
Much of the diplomatic compound was looted and trampled, making the crime scene difficult to analyze, and FBI Director Robert Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee in June that U.S. agents could not immediately get to the area because of safety concerns.
“We’ve had some success that I can’t get into today,” Mueller said at the time.
U.S. officials have said that Abu Khattala, an Islamic cleric and reputed leader of the extremist Ansar al Sharia militia, was a leading suspect in the attack. He told reporters in October that he was present during the attack but denied that he was directing the militants.
Ali Ani Harzi was arrested in October in Turkey in connection with the Libya attack at the request of the CIA and sent back to his home country of Tunisia. FBI agents later interviewed Harzi for three hours in front of a local judge, but he was released from custody Jan. 8 for lack of evidence. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Congress that the Tunisian prime minister had assured her that Harzi remained “under the monitoring of the court.”
A third suspect, Islamist militant Muhamed Jamal abu Ahmed, was arrested in Egypt in December with help from U.S. intelligence officials. They believe some of Ahmed’s associates were present during the Benghazi attack, although his own role remains unclear.
U.S. intelligence officials have said that even though some al-Qaida extremists were present at the Benghazi attack, it was not a premeditated al-Qaida operation. According to the State Department, Stevens died of smoke inhalation in a so-called safe room after armed militants stormed the lightly guarded diplomatic compound and set several buildings on fire.