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TRIPOLI, Libya — A former Libyan militia commander today denied charges filed in U.S. federal court accusing him of being involved in an attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Ahmed Abu Khattala told The Associated Press that he was not in hiding, nor had he been questioned by Libyan authorities over the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. That assault killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and sparked Republican-led investigations in Congress over the attack and its aftermath.
Khattala repeatedly has denied being involved in the attack. He did so again today when reached by telephone by the AP.
“I am a Libyan citizen and the American government has nothing to do with me,” he said. “I am in my city, having a normal life and have no troubles and if they have an inquiry to make, they should get in touch with Libyan authorities.”
Officials in the U.S. say he and an unspecified number of others are named in a sealed complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington. It’s unclear what charges he and the others face. Libya’s Justice Ministry declined to comment today when asked about the U.S. charges.
Khattala was the commander of an Islamist militia group called Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah. However, he said today he had abandoned the militia and begun working as a construction contractor.
The night of the attack, assailants stormed the consulate compound and set its buildings aflame. U.S. officials have said that American security agents took fire across more than a mile (kilometer) of the city when they were forced into a daring car escape against traffic.
A Libyan witness interviewed after the attack told the AP that Khattala was present at the compound and directed fighters. An AP reporter also was shown a photograph of a long-haired, long-bearded man at the scene who was wearing the Afghan-style robes favored by many radicals. Benghazi residents identified the man as Khattala.
Since U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election, Republicans in Congress have condemned the administration’s handling of the matter, criticizing the level of embassy security and questioning the talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her public explanation of the attack. Conservatives have suggested that the White House tried to play down the incident to minimize its effect on the president’s campaign.
Republicans also have taken political aim at Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack and is a possible Democratic presidential contender in 2016.
The AP reported in May that American officials had identified five men who might be responsible for the attack. The suspects were not named publicly, but the FBI released photos of three of the five suspects, asking the public to provide more information about the men.
The images were captured by security cameras at the U.S. diplomatic post during the attack, but it took weeks for the FBI to see and study them. They are thought to be members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were seen near the consulate prior to the violence.