Benghazi suspect to remain in U.S. custody, judge rules

This June 28, 2014, artist's rendering shows United States Magistrate, Judge John Facciola, swearing in the defendant, Libyan militant Ahmed Abu Khatallah, wearing a headphone, as his attorney Michelle Peterson watches during a hearing at the federal U.S. District Court in Washington. Dana Verkouteren, AP

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ordered Wednesday that a Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans faces must remain in U.S. custody.

A lawyer for Ahmed Abu Khattalah conceded in court that it was appropriate for her client to remain locked up, given the nature of the charge he faces and his lack of ties to the United States. But the attorney, Michelle Peterson, also argued that prosecutors had not yet presented evidence of his involvement in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

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This Facebook photos is believed to show Ahmed Abu Khattalah, who was captured by U.S. special forces on June 15, 2014, on the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya.
Uncredited, AP

Khattalah appeared briefly in federal court before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in Washington. He listened to the proceedings through headphones as an interpreter translated the conversation into Arabic.

CBS News' Paula Reid reports that Khattalah - still sporting a long, gray beard - was wearing a green jumpsuit with a white undershirt peeking out. He was unrestrained and U.S. Marshals sat on either side of the defense table during the hearing.

As the hearing began, they had technical problems with the translation equipment which took about ten minutes to fix. Reid reports that during that time the defendant sat peacefully and looked around the room seemingly curious about all the reporters, agents and interns in the packed courtroom.

During the arguments, Khatallah watched attentively, but did not speak. Through his lawyer he has requested a copy of the Quran and a special Halal diet, Reid reports.

Prosecutors filed court papers this week that outlined some details of their case. More could emerge when the Justice Department issues a new indictment. Khattalah's expected trial will take place alongside ongoing congressional and Justice Department investigations into the 2012 attack that killed an ambassador and the Obama administration's response to it shortly before the 2012 presidential election.

In court papers filed Tuesday night, the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington said Khattalah has continued to target Americans with deadly and destructive intentions.

The court papers described in general terms the case that prosecutors plan to bring against the defendant. The court filing says that after U.S personnel evacuated the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, Khattalah entered the compound and supervised the collection of material found at the scene. Khattalah then returned to a camp in Benghazi controlled by Ansar al-Shariah, where a large armed group began assembling for an attack on the mission's annex.

Khattalah, the court papers added, is a commander of Abu Obaida bin Jarrah Brigade, an extremist group that was absorbed into Ansar al-Sharia after the recent Libyan revolution. Ansar al-Sharia is an Islamic extremist militia in Libya that holds anti-Western views and advocates the establishment of Sharia law in Libya.

In the days that followed the attack, Khattalah attempted to obtain equipment, including weapons, to defend himself from anticipated U.S. retaliation, the government said.

In late 2013, according to the court filing, Khattalah expressed anger that the U.S. conducted a capture operation of a Libyan fugitive in Tripoli, and he targeted U.S. interests in the region for retaliation.

He also expressed concern that the U.S. might try to capture him in Libya and stepped up his personal security.

The rampage in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has long been politically divisive. Republicans have criticized the response by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, to the attacks. Republicans have accused the White House of misleading Americans and downplaying a terrorist attack ahead of Barack Obama's re-election. The White House has accused Republicans of seeking political gains from the violence.

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