WASHINGTON - U.S. officials on Tuesday confirmed that authorities have arrested Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspected key figure in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
President Barack Obama took credit for authorizing the operation in Libya that brought Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari'a, into custody.
Attorney General Eric Holder meanwhile said that the Khatallah's capture has not slowed the hunt for co-conspirators.
"The arrest of Ahmed Abu Khatallah represents a significant milestone in our efforts to ensure justice is served for the heinous and cowardly attack on our facilities in Benghazi," Holder said in a statement. "Since that attack - which caused the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty - we have conducted a thorough, unrelenting investigation, across continents, to find the perpetrators. The arrest of Khatallah proves that the U.S. government will expend any effort necessary to pursue terrorists who harm our citizens. Khatallah currently faces criminal charges on three counts, and we retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days. Even as we begin the process of putting Khatallah on trial and seeking his conviction before a jury, our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators. This is our pledge; we owe the victims of the Benghazi attack and their loved ones nothing less."
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said the military has Khatallah in a secure location outside of Libya.
Emphasizing that the operation did not include any civilian casualties, Kirby said all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely left Libya.
In announcing Khatallah's arrest, prosecutors unsealed the three-count criminal complaint
they filed against him nearly a year ago in Washington, D.C.
"On or about the date(s) of September 11, 2012, through September 12, 2012, in Libya and, therefore, outside of the jurisdiction of any particular state or district of the United States, but within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the United States and, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 3238, within the venue of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the defendant(s) violated:
"18 U.S.C. §§930(c) and 2 - Killing a Person in the Course of an Attack on a Federal Facility Involving the Use of a Firearm and Dangerous Weapon and Attempting and Conspiring to Do the Same;
"18 U.S.C. §§2339A and 2 -Providing, Attempting and Conspiring to Provide Material Support to Terrorists Resulting in Death;
18 U.S.C. §§924(c)(1) and 2 - Discharging, Brandishing, Using, Carrying and Possessing a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence."
Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth signed off on the charges, the first of which is death-penalty eligible.
Prosecutors said Khatallah also goes by Ahmed Mukatalah. They described him as "a Libyan national approximately 43 years of age."