PITTSBURGH — President Obama lauded the “incredible courage” of the special forces that captured a suspected architect of the 2012 Benghazi attack, saying that their actions sent a message to the world on American resolve in the face of terror.
At his appearance in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Mr. Obama confirmed earlier reports of the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is accused of playing a key role in the fatal 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound that has been the focus of a cascade of controversy in his re-election campaign and throughout his second term
Mr. Obama prefaced an appearance with a reminder of the Libya attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“I said at the time, that my absolute commitment was to make sure that we brought to justice those who were responsible, and yesterday, our special forces, showing incredible courage and precision, were able to capture an individual, Abu Khattala, who ... is alleged to have been one of the masterminds of the attack.”
Khattala had returned home Sunday night after a day of militia skirmishes in Benghazi when U.S. military commandos swarmed his residence and took him captive, quickly moving him out of Libya to a U.S. warship.
“He was isolated,” a U.S. official said. “It was pretty clean.”
U.S. officials said the joint Special Operations forces-FBI operation had been planned for months and was approved by President Obama on Friday. The Pentagon said there were no civilian or other casualties, and that all involved U.S. personnel had safely left Libya.
With the news of the capture, the Pittsburgh audience that had gathered for an economic development forum broke into applause. The reaction on Capitol Hill was also generally, if sometimes grudgingly, positive, despite the months of GOP criticism of the Obama Administration’s actions surrounding the attack. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) praised the military and the FBI for their work on the capture.
“I look forward to hearing more details regarding the raid, and I expect the administration to give our military professionals time to properly gather any useful intelligence he has,” Mr. Boehner said.
He referred to the administration’s announcement that the suspect would be brought to the United States and tried in criminal court.
A White House official said the President would meet with congressional leaders, including Mr. Boehner, Wednesday to discuss a range of foreign policy issues, also including Iraq.
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Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, praised the military’s capture but questioned its timing.
“This individual has made himself available to multiple media outlets in the 19 months since the deaths of four Americans, including the first U.S. ambassador killed in an attack since 1979,” he said in a statement issued by his office. “I hope this capture brings us closer to justice and accountability.”
He referred to interviews, including one with the Associated Press in August, in which the suspect denied that he was in hiding and disavowed any role in the attack on the Benghazi compound.
Mr. Obama told the East Liberty audience that the suspected terrorist was being brought back to the United States. Unnamed administration officials told the Washington Post, which first reported the capture, that Abu Khattala had been apprehended without U.S. casualties and was being held “in a secure location outside Libya.”
‘We will find you’
Mr. Obama said that the development sends “a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible, and we will bring them to justice, and that’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you.
“And I want to make sure that everybody around the world hears that message very clearly, because my first and most solemn duty as President and commander in chief is to keep the American people safe,” he said.
Citing dangers faced by American diplomats serving around the world, he added, “They need to know that this country has their back and will always go after anybody who goes after us.”
Earlier, on the flight from Washington, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told the press pool traveling with the President: “We have made it clear since that cowardly attack on our facilities that we would go to any lengths to find, apprehend, and bring to justice those who perpetrated [the attack] and were responsible for the deaths of four Americans. The capture of Abu Khattala is not the end of that effort, but it marks an important milestone.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said that the military should be granted an extended period of time to interrogate Abu Khattala.
“We should have some quality time with this guy — weeks and months — don’t torture him, have some quality time,” he said.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that civilian courts were competent to handle the case as they had with hundreds of terror suspects since Sept. 11, 2001.
Also in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, the President called for innovation in manufacturing. He also called for some innovation in Washington’s approach to governing, but he seemed a lot more optimistic about the former than the latter.
At TechShop Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama announced a plan to give fledgling businesses expanded access to high-tech resources, whether from the government or through wider sharing of private and university-based data and facilities.
Administration officials said the plan to provide access to expensive equipment and facilities is designed to lower the barriers to innovation. Mr. Obama cited the high-tech facilities of NASA and — without any references to the NSA — the massive stores of data collected by government agencies as examples of some of the resources that offer potential for exploitation by manufacturing entrepreneurs.
He announced the initiative after touring TechShop, a membership-based manufacturing workshop that’s a model for the kind of sharing of resources he wants to promote.
“For the cost of a gym membership,” he noted, small businesses can utilize the site’s resources, such as the 3-D printers and laser sculpting he observed on a brief tour of the East Liberty facility.
Mr. Obama’s executive order establishing the innovation initiative was one more example of the administration’s efforts to pursue policy changes that don't depend on action by an often recalcitrant Congress.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. James O’Toole is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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