Overshadowed last week by the shooting incident in Las Vegas, a jury heard testimony amidst tight security in a courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse located in Washington, D.C. Ahmad Salim Farat Abu Khatallah, the mastermind of the attacks on the American Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya sat and listened to testimony about his role in these attacks of September 11-12, 2012. Until his capture, Khatallah had been hiding in plain sight in Libya, giving interviews and drinking strawberry frappes until justice caught up with him.
His Benghazi attacks led to the deaths of four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, Communications Expert Sean Smith and two former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Less anyone forget, there were other American heroes who fought to protect themselves and other Americans in Benghazi. Not everyone has the courage these individuals displayed and their deeds in Benghazi are legendary. Last week, one of the most poignant moments of testimony was when Diplomatic Security Special Agent Scott Wickland testified his last words to Ambassador Hill were “When I die, you need to pick up my gun and keep fighting.”
The attack on the temporary Mission complex were coordinated by Khatallah. Weapons, logistics, intelligence as well as personnel to carryout the attacks were required. Ambassador Hill was the first diplomat to be killed on the job since 1979. After attacking and setting fire to the Mission Complex the attackers turned their attention to the Annex. After obtaining a map from the Mission Complex of the Annex with geographic coordinates Khatallah used this intelligence to have his followers deliver a precision mortar attack on the Annex killing former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Khatallah though he was untouchable in Libya until a small element of the elite U.S. Delta Force seized Al-Qaeda terrorist Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Raqai. Better known by his kunya Abu Anas al-Libi like so many terrorists thought that justice would never come. Al-Libi, was seized on October 5, 2013, in his vehicle in front of his residence after returning from morning prayer in Tripoli. Al-Libi was bundled away in a white van before being moved to a US warship off the coast of Libya. Al-Libi was involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Libi was taken from Tripoli to the USS San Antonio where he was interrogated for intelligence before being brought to the US for trial. The seizure and interrogation of Abu Anas al-Libi provided intelligence which if he was targeted and killed would perish with him. Al-Libi died of complication from a liver transplant before his trial. Al-Libi was taken without firing a shot in an operation that was as spectacular as any Tom Clancy or John Le Carre novel. After Al-Libi was seized Khatallah became more careful. But that did not mean justice wouldn’t come for him.
On June 15, 2014, Delta Force operatives were able to use deception to seize Khatallah. He was cuffed, gagged, hooded, and moved by small boats to the USS New York off the Libyan coast. The USS New York was made with recycled steel from the World Trade Center and should serve as a reminder that the United States has a long memory when it comes to terrorist attacks. Khatallah was taken to his cell onboard the warship and then interrogated by intelligence officials. After the intelligence question of this terrorist, there was a brief pause of two days before he was questioned by FBI Agents. The FBI Agents advised Khatallah of his Miranda rights before questioning him. Khatallah’s defense team sought to have all his statements suppressed but the Judge found that his statements had been given to the FBI Agents voluntarily. Khatallah’s own words during his interview with FBI Agents say it all, “I didn’t do all this by myself. Others were involved and helped me.”
This next week we can expect to hear more about the horrific act of terrorism directed by Khatallah in a courtroom where justice will prevail. But Khatallah is just one suspect involved, even if he was the mastermind of the attacks that night in Benghazi. The CCTV photos captured on the evening of the attack clearly show 19 others who are still wanted for their roles in this terror attack. As one can see in the stills, the vast majority are clearly carrying weapons and justice still awaits them.
Patience is a trait I have never mastered. While we still wait for justice for those Al-Qaeda terrorists held in Guantanamo, maybe the trial of one terrorist from Libya will give others the fortitude to move just a tad faster. The words of a brilliant poet during the times of Caesar Augustus, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace gives some comfort. Horace stated “Justice, though moving with tardy pace, has seldom failed to overtake the wicked in their flight.”