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US: Top Benghazi suspect captured

- Breakthrough in probe into attack

Cairo, June 17: US commandos have captured the suspected leader of the 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, White House and Pentagon officials said today.

The capture of the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, is a major breakthrough in the two-and-a-half-year-old investigation into the attack, which also killed three other Americans, just two months before the presidential election in the US.

President Obama vowed swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice, but efforts to identify and prosecute the attackers were stymied by the chaos of the event and the broader mayhem in Libya.

Obama’s handling of the attack and the aftermath became a lightning rod for Republican critics. They accused him of misleading Americans about the circumstances behind it for his own political purposes and of failing to aggressively pursue those responsible — accusations that Obama and his defenders have strenuously denied.

Seen as an eccentric extremist even by his ultra conservative Islamist neighbours, he was wanted by the US as a prime suspect in the Benghazi attack.

Officials briefed on the investigation have said for more than a year that a plan to capture Abu Khattala was on Obama’s desk awaiting approval. But the administration held back, in part for fear that an American raid to retrieve him might further destabilise the already tenuous Libyan government.

Diplomats also suggested that the US investigators might have been struggling to produce sufficient witness testimony and other evidence to convict Abu Khattala of responsibility for the deaths in an American court.

In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the Benghazi attack, Abu Khattala scoffed at the American effort to hold him accountable — another reflection of the atmosphere of lawlessness that pervaded Libya after the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s longtime autocrat, in October 2011.

The execution of the raid, which was first reported by The Washington Post, appears to signal that the investigators are confident in their case, and it may also reflect an acceptance that Libya is unlikely to become a stable partner. Indeed, a renegade general based in Benghazi is currently waging a low-grade military campaign against militants like Abu Khattala.

 
 
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