Breaking: US captures first suspect in Benghazi attack

posted at 11:47 am on June 17, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

The White House is enjoying a rare piece of good news in a season of disarray on foreign policy and national security.  The US have finally captured the first suspected ringleader of the attack on the Benghazi consulate 21 months ago. US special forces seized Ahmed Abu Khattala in a raid this weekend in Libya, which has now been made public after all personnel have left the country:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assault has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Khattala’s apprehension is a major victory for the Obama administration, which has been criticized for having failed so far to bring those responsible for the Benghazi attacks to justice.

One jubilant official called Khattala’s capture “a reminder that when the United States says it’s going to hold someone accountable and he will face justice, this is what we mean.”

Can’t blame them for being jubilant, but it’s not as if this should have taken 21 months, either. Khattala lived openly in Libya after the deadly attack on the State Department and CIA facilities, enjoying himself too. Michael Calderone noted last December for Huffington Post the oddity of seeing Khattala giving media interviews in Benghazi and elsewhere while the Obama administration insisted that it was doing everything it could to bring the attackers to justice:

While the U.S. government has so far been unable to catch Khattala, journalists haven’t had trouble locating him since shortly after the attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Last year, I wrote how both the New York Times and Reuters sat down with Khattala around the time he was first considered a suspect. In those reports — and in more recent ones — journalists have noted the disconnect between his status as a wanted man and casually meeting in public.

On Oct. 18, 2012, New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick “spent two leisurely hours”with Khattala “at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments.”

Reuters caught up with Khattala the same day and similarly reported that he didn’t appear overly concerned. “Sitting with a friend in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel, the 41-year-old, sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently,” wrote Hadeel Al Shalchi and Ghaith Shennib.

And that’s not the last time Khattala popped up in the western media. In August, CNN’s Arwa Damon spent two hours with him at a well-known hotel coffee shop in Benghazi. When asked on-air about locating Khattala, Damon said he’s “not a man who is in hiding.”

So yes, this is a win for the US, but it’s still going to raise questions about how much effort the US put into capturing Khattala until now. At the time of Calderone’s piece, the White House insisted that they couldn’t act without destabilizing the government in Tripoli. What’s changed since then? Last week, incoming PM Ahmad Maiteeq offered his resignation after a court ruled his election was unconstitutional and current PM Abdullah Al Thani refused to recognize his legitimacy.  This hardly seems like a propitious time for a Special Forces raid if the previous delays were taken to promote stability.

The big fish still remains to be found. Abu Safian bin Qumu has long been suspected of commanding the attack, despite an inexplicable New York Times claim to the contrary. The US had bin Qumu in custody, too — until the Bush administration released him from Gitmo in 2007. This good news will serve as a reminder of the dangers of releasing terrorists back into the war, a reminder that the White House probably would prefer to avoid at the moment.

Update: It’s worth noting that the Libyan government arrested Faraj al-Shibli in March 2013 in connection to the attack, and allowed the FBI to interrogate him. To date, though, the US has not taken Shibli into custody, or at least no such report comes up on a search.

Update: It’s the first suspect in the attack to be taken into US custody, but not the first US arrest, as Jeff Dunetz points out. That arrest took place in my old hometown of Cerritos, California, and put a YouTube filmmaker behind bars — ostensibly for parole violations, but more accurately for thoughtcrime and political expediency.

Update: Barack Obama says this demonstrates American resolve:

What did the previous 21 months of Khattala holding court with American media demonstrate?


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Now if they can just get this guy to say he saw some movie…

rhombus on June 17, 2014 at 11:49 AM

LOOK! SQUIRREL!!

myiq2xu on June 17, 2014 at 11:49 AM

What, they arrested the film maker again???…

PatriotRider on June 17, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Oh come on … It must be pretty bad when they resort to using Benghazi to distract from the mess in Iraq …

djl130 on June 17, 2014 at 11:50 AM

first suspect

Ed, please correct this. This is the second suspect. The first has been in prison for a while.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Bergdghazi!!

Ned Pepper on June 17, 2014 at 11:50 AM

They get the video maker again?

ConstantineXI on June 17, 2014 at 11:50 AM

What’s the point of capturing anyone, when we just release them back into the wild?

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

His name is “TOKEN”

aka smokescreen
aka something else to distract from the IRS, VA, Amnesty.

tail wags dog moment.

RealMc on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

Obama: “OK, we need a distraction from our distraction that we are trying to distract from. Remember that guy we put up in Libya 21 months ago saying we would be back for him eventually, well now is the time. Go get him.”

freddyfrank81 on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

They could have nabbed this guy a long time ago.

BO was simply waiting until he needed a boost in the polls.

climbnjump on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

So yes, this is a win for the US, but it’s still going to raise questions about how much effort the US put into capturing Khattala until now. At the time of Calderone’s piece, the White House insisted that they couldn’t act without destabilizing the government in Tripoli. What’s changed since then?

What’s changed? Have you seen their foreign policy lately? Or the never-ending scandals? They needed something to change the topic of discussion. And sorry, but to anyone who believes that this guy was suddenly captured and the timing is merely coincidental, I have some Solyndra stock to sell you.

Doughboy on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

Yeah for the Special Ops Forces. Way to go guys!

gophergirl on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Are we going to let him go?

BetseyRoss on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

The Muslim Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit says “What difference does it make?”.

Chickyraptor on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

terrorist attacks in Benghazi

Wait? What? When did this happen?

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

They caught him hiding out in a coffee shop, he was hanging out with Bill and Hillary.

Sven on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

“Heck-of-a-job Brownie”

Ban hammer in 3…2…..

Von Kleist on June 17, 2014 at 11:53 AM

One jubilant official called Khattala’s capture “a reminder that when the United States says it’s going to hold someone accountable and he will face justice, this is what we mean.”

Excuse me if I don’t believe a word this official says.

gophergirl on June 17, 2014 at 11:53 AM

Wolfie and tingles are rejoicing

All hail dear leader ….what leadership

cmsinaz on June 17, 2014 at 11:54 AM

At the time of Calderone’s piece, the White House insisted that they couldn’t act without destabilizing the government in Tripoli.

And when asked by reporters of this fact………oh. Right.

tru2tx on June 17, 2014 at 11:54 AM

Is he a terrorist? Or a schmuck just out for a stroll one night?

kevinkristy on June 17, 2014 at 11:54 AM

And Hillary is doing her big interview with Greta and Bret on FOX News tonight. What a co-inkydink. Oh well, what difference, at this point, does it make?

bimmcorp on June 17, 2014 at 11:55 AM

It’s about time.

BigGator5 on June 17, 2014 at 11:55 AM

One jubilant official called Khattala’s capture “a reminder that when the United States says it’s going to hold someone accountable and he will face justice, this is what we mean.”

Excuse me if I don’t believe a word this official says.

gophergirl on June 17, 2014 at 11:53 AM

Lois Lerner?

bimmcorp on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

The administration has been carefully mapping this guy’s travel, from home to coffee house, back to home, day after day for two years; they had to make sure all the pieces were in place before nabbing him. One day he wore a hat and that threw off the entire surveillance and it had to be started over from scratch.

This is high-level stuff, you keyboard warriors, Harvard-grade type stuff, way beyond your abilities.

Bishop on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Is this bust of a guy who’s been hanging out at a local coffee shop in plain sight enough to push the IRS scandal of the front pages of conservative media sites?

Team Choom hopes so…

ROCnPhilly on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Is he a terrorist? Or a schmuck just out for a stroll one night?

kevinkristy on June 17, 2014 at 11:54 AM

With the track record on this President you have to verify EVERYTHING. He is a serial liar to the nth degree.

Oil Can on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

1) Why was he taken alive?

2) IRS hard drive failure? What IRS hard drive failure?

This regimes “squirreling” would make a bad SNL skit.

rbj on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Hard Choices

Electrongod on June 17, 2014 at 11:56 AM

We need someone to trade for the embassy personnel that will be taken hostage.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Are we going to let him go?

BetseyRoss on June 17, 2014 at 11:52 AM

No, we are going to trade him for the release of 20 more Gitmo detainees or sumpin.

Harbingeing on June 17, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Ed, please correct this. This is the second suspect. The first has been in prison the White House for a while.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Rix on June 17, 2014 at 11:57 AM

They could have nabbed this guy a long time ago.

BO was simply waiting until he needed a boost in the polls.

climbnjump on June 17, 2014 at 11:51 AM

Id be more inclined to believe that if Libs actually knew what Ben Gosie was…

MikeInBA on June 17, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Drudge is headlining SIX more IRS targets and SIX more computer crashes and lost emails.
Oh the humanity! All those crashes!

Marcus on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Ding ding ding faraway @11:51

cmsinaz on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Bush’s policies helped capture him. Amiright?

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

So . . . they raided YouTube? I’m soooooo confused . . .

SoRight on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

My, we’re a cynical bunch. And for good reasons.

INC on June 17, 2014 at 11:59 AM

The Obama Admin is in negotiations with Lybia for the release of Khattala. They are searching for an American traitor to trade with.

Sven on June 17, 2014 at 11:59 AM

myiq2xu on June 17, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Too many squirrels and the Dog lays down and laughs.

dogsoldier on June 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

I’m curious though, if a YT vid caused a spontaneous attack can we really hold this dude accountable, I mean he was driven to rage and murder by circumstances beyond his control.

Bishop on June 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Now, if only the IRS can report another dozen employee’s emails are “lost”, Obama might find another couple Benghazi terrorists.

Roy Rogers on June 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Where are they keeping Ogabe locked up?

viking01 on June 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

In other words, I don’t think this will help King Putt.

dogsoldier on June 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Monica Lewinsky’s ex-boyfriend’s wife asks:

What difference, at this point, does it make?

Galtian on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

It’s always amusing seeing you guys criticize something you’ve been saying is of the utmost importance, just because Obama did it.

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

This is one Benghazi news most republicans won’t like….

weedisgood on June 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

They probably told him he’ll be out without a trial shortly after the 2014 midterms.

DaveDief on June 17, 2014 at 12:03 PM

This is one Benghazi news most republicans won’t like….

weedisgood on June 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Well, we DO question the timing….

Harbingeing on June 17, 2014 at 12:03 PM

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Says the cult member who believed that Amb Stevens was killed by a video.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:03 PM

4 more and they’d have enough to trade for Lois Lerner.

redzap on June 17, 2014 at 12:04 PM

‘Coulda had him anytime, only let him get away out of kindness, I suppose’, oh, sorry, this just reminded me of an old Willie Nelson song. The regime was saving this for when they needed a distraction. Hoo, boy, they be needing a lot of those lately.

Kissmygrits on June 17, 2014 at 12:04 PM

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

How are the new meds working out?

Wait. Don’t tell us…

viking01 on June 17, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Drudge is headlining SIX more IRS targets and SIX more computer crashes and lost emails.
Oh the humanity! All those crashes!

Marcus on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

That was inevitable. Someone finally realized that it just wasn’t believable to have lost email from just one person. So yeah, lots more are “missing” now also.

climbnjump on June 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

This is one Benghazi news most republicans won’t like….

weedisgood on June 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

You would think that Dems wouldn’t like it, since they have been lied to about YouTube videos.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

It’s really sad for me as an American to realize that when I read the breaking news, which is good news, I immediately suspect the timing of the operation.

It’s reassuring in a way to come here and realize I’m not alone in that thought.

Drained Brain on June 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

They’ve been thinking how can they make it look as if they care about Benghazi and distract from all the other scandals. Now they have to keep this guy from telling what really happened. I would say his life isn’t worth much.

crankyoldlady on June 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

This arrest kinda blows up the whole You Tube reason, huh?

conservative pilgrim on June 17, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Umm, is this guy in the video too?

Jayrae on June 17, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Hillary Clinton?

Ward Cleaver on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Rose garden announcement in 3…2….

pambi on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

That suspect looks a lot like Slow Joe Biden in a turban….

viking01 on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

It’s always amusing seeing you guys criticize something you’ve been saying is of the utmost importance, just because Obama did it.

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

If they would have caught him within a couple of months it would be a different story. The ineptitude of this administration was reported in the newspaper this morning, O’Barry will read it tonight. 1…2…3… It’s Bushs fault.

Sven on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

It’s always amusing seeing you guys criticize something you’ve been saying is of the utmost importance, just because Obama did it.

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

I guess the Obama cult fan club have less members these days. What is fund raiser? A car wash?

Oil Can on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Oh come on. This means no one will be able to testify to the Benghazi committee – the situation is now under investigation, in the courts, yada yada. I have this sick feeling this is not only a way for Obama to create a distraction – it also gives Hillary “good news” and delays any congressional investigation. The “delay” will be indefinite – at least until after Nov elections. And then I wouldn’t put it past them to get the suspect to lie under oath and say it was triggered by the video in exchange for a plea. Call me a cynic.

soozq on June 17, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Is this the guy that made the video? /sarc

rjoco1 on June 17, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Now Rush is questioning the timing and the video blamers…

Harbingeing on June 17, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Look out for the backlash from kidnapping one of Libya’s favorite sons!!

Deano1952 on June 17, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Did Holder rush in to read him his Miranda rights?

rhombus on June 17, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Drudge is headlining SIX more IRS targets and SIX more computer crashes and lost emails. Oh the humanity! All those crashes!

Hey who screwed this up. This was not to be released until late Friday. His weekend golf outing will suffer if he gets any blow back on this during the week. Silly me, the media carries his bag cleans his balls.

Buckshots on June 17, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Silly me, the media carries his bag cleans his balls.

Buckshots on June 17, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Well, maybe they don’t carry his bags but they certainly do the other thing you mentioned.

rhombus on June 17, 2014 at 12:11 PM

It’s always amusing seeing you guys criticize something you’ve been saying is of the utmost importance, just because Obama did it.

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Remember the good ol’ days when killing terrorists only created more terrorists? Those were good times….good good times….

*tearing up*

Where have all the good times gone, man?

Bishop on June 17, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Can’t blame them for being jubilant, but it’s not as if this should have taken 21 months, either.

It took them 21 months because they didn’t need the distraction until now.

dirtseller on June 17, 2014 at 12:11 PM

Someone finally realized that it just wasn’t believable to have lost email from just one person. So yeah, lots more are “missing” now also.

climbnjump on June 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

It’s funny that only the people involved in the scandals had hard drive crashes. A coincidental virus, I guess.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Memo to Brian Williams:

Ogabe is wondering why you haven’t hurried out to kiss his ass yet?

viking01 on June 17, 2014 at 12:12 PM

I guess the Obama cult fan club have less members these days. What is fund raiser? A car wash?

Oil Can on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Moped wash, homophobe, cars are soooo last century.

Bishop on June 17, 2014 at 12:12 PM

It’s really sad for me as an American to realize that when I read the breaking news, which is good news, I immediately suspect the timing of the operation.

The only person you need to be sad for, then, is yourself.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Oh goody, something to distract from the debacle in Iraq. Bet they knew where this guy was for awhile but were sitting on it until the distraction was needed.

mechkiller_k on June 17, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Why didn’t Obama shoot this guy in the head like the last one?

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:13 PM

They could capture every war criminal from the last fifty years, it still doesn’t excuse them from leaving those four Americans to die in Benghazi. “Period.”

n0doz on June 17, 2014 at 12:13 PM

If they would have caught him within a couple of months it would be a different story. The ineptitude of this administration was reported in the newspaper this morning, O’Barry will read it tonight. 1…2…3… It’s Bushs fault.

Sven on June 17, 2014 at 12:07 PM

a couple of months?

You guys gave Bush a pass on catching Osama for EIGHT YEARS. Even when Osama announced to the world that he did it. And then tried to give Bush credit for Obama catching him.

and now 21 months to catch the prime Benghazi suspect is inept?

what the hell are you talking about?

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:14 PM

More barry b.s.

Appalacher on June 17, 2014 at 12:14 PM

I can’t wait for Obama to read about this.

faraway on June 17, 2014 at 12:14 PM

It’s always amusing seeing you guys criticize something you’ve been saying is of the utmost importance, just because Obama did it.

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Sooo… what you are saying is you didn’t read?

NiteOwl on June 17, 2014 at 12:15 PM

Obama: Mommy! The Bergdahl distraction totally didn’t work, and Iraq is a disaster that people are claiming is my fault!! What do we do??

Valerie Jarret: Calm down sweety. We’ll arrest Khattala. I was saving him for just the right time.

Obama: You’re the best, mommy!!!

NotCoach on June 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Given the fact that Obama does NOTHING that isn’t calibrated for domestic political impact, and the fact abu Khattab has been roaming the streets of Benghazi freely and could have been grabbed anytime, and the fact that Obama’s excuses for not grabbing him earlier conflict completely with arresting this guy now, it’s fair to assume this arrest is timed to distract from Obama’s metastasizing scandals.

The guy belongs in Gitmo before a military commission. By bringing him home and handing him over to Eric Holder’s DOJ, Obama can be certain the public will learn NOTHING from this arrest as Holder slow-walks the prosecution until after Obama’s term runs out.

novaculus on June 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM

What was he wearing? He had to have been wearing a tee shirt that had his name written in bold lettering on it to finally get picked up, right?

nor on June 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM

You guys are completely deranged.

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:01 PM

How are the new meds working out?

Wait. Don’t tell us…

viking01 on June 17, 2014 at 12:04 PM

You’re just jealous because the voices only talk to him.

He’s just confused, wondering what we could possibly have against that actor who played the bad guy in “Roadhouse.”

CurtZHP on June 17, 2014 at 12:16 PM

You guys gave Bush a pass on catching Osama for EIGHT YEARS. Even when Osama announced to the world that he did it. And then tried to give Bush credit for Obama catching him.

and now 21 months to catch the prime Benghazi suspect is inept?

what the hell are you talking about?

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Don’t recall Osama giving his location out so freely. Do you?

NiteOwl on June 17, 2014 at 12:18 PM

New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick ”spent two leisurely hours”with Khattala “at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio

Reuters caught up with Khattala the same day and similarly reported that he didn’t appear overly concerned. “Sitting with a friend in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel, the 41-year-old, sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently,”

CNN’s Arwa Damon spent two hours with him at a well-known hotel coffee shop in Benghazi.

So, does he ever pick up the check, or is he a schnorrer? Hey, this is important stuff here…

bofh on June 17, 2014 at 12:18 PM

a couple of months?

You guys gave Bush a pass on catching Osama for EIGHT YEARS. Even when Osama announced to the world that he did it. And then tried to give Bush credit for Obama catching him.

and now 21 months to catch the prime Benghazi suspect is inept?

what the hell are you talking about?

everdiso on June 17, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Really? No difference in the effort to catch Bin Laden vs. this guy? See, you blamed Bush for Barry, good to see you have your talking points down. Do you get a mailer from Valerie?

Sven on June 17, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Drudge is headlining SIX more IRS targets and SIX more computer crashes and lost emails.
Oh the humanity! All those crashes!

Marcus on June 17, 2014 at 11:58 AM

Last night on Special Report CK said that Nixon’s second article of impe@chment listed use of the IRS to go after his political enemies.

http://tinyurl.com/6nbj83r

I’d forgotten that until he mentioned it. If you look at the Articles, it looks like an incomplete list of Obama’s acts. It lists obstruction of justice, misuse of federal agencies, and not producing subpenaed documents. Obama has done all that Nixon did and more.

(I had several comments eaten. Is the “I” word now filtered?)

INC on June 17, 2014 at 12:18 PM

I hope they question this guy on what role a youtube video played in planning the attack.

portlandon on June 17, 2014 at 12:19 PM

The AQ guys who sacked the building and killed our Ambassador no doubt got a treasure trove of documents and electronic files. It is possible the reason Obama never did went after these guys is because he was blackmailed. The captured docs could have been highly embarrassing or worse and AQ simple made a deal as “we keeps quiet youse guys as longs as we are safe”.

Capturing one now? Its just one.

richardb on June 17, 2014 at 12:19 PM

We’ve got boots on the ground in Labia?

But the Choom Gang said there wouldn’t be…

formwiz on June 17, 2014 at 12:19 PM

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