On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. diplomatic facilities in a newly Qaddafi-free Libya were hit by a coordinated assault by an Islamic militant group. The attack killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and two special operations veterans who responded to the attack as part of a volunteer CIA quick reaction force. The special operations community got their revenge, capturing ringleader Ahmed Abu Khattala in Libya in 2014.
On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, Khattala was convicted for his role the attack but his sentence was only 22 years in prison. The reason: he was found not guilty of murder by a Washington jury.
Khattala was accused of being the leader of an extremist militia and directing the Benghazi attacks. Prosecutors alleged Khattala was responsible for the deaths of the four Americans, but could not find any evidence of the extremist leader actually holding a weapon.
He was caught on camera driving fighters to the attack site and his mobile phone records proved he was communicating with the attackers. Among the witnesses testifying against him were the FBI plant who got close to Khattala and helped the FBI arrange his capture by U.S. Army Special Forces.
The attack on the compound that killed Ambassador Stevens was the first that resulted in the death of such a high-profile diplomat since the 1979 killing of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs during a botched kidnapping attempt in 1979. Also killed was State Department Information Officer Sean Patrick Smith, along with former Navy SEALs Glen “Bub” Doherty and Tyrone “Rone” Woods, who both served with valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After CIA contractors who responded to an attack on the consulate compound removed Smith’s body and aided survivors (they were unable to find the ambassador), the attacking forces moved on to the CIA’s annex, where the defenders took cover. Doherty and Woods died in defense of the annex.
Though there have been many investigations in the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks and an exact timeline isn’t clear to this day, what is clear is that it was a coordinated assault by members of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, a group formed to fight the government forces of Muammar Qaddafi – and the Abu Khattala was involved.
Khattala was convicted on four charges, including providing material support for terrorism, but was cleared of 14 others including the four deaths of Americans on the ground in Benghazi that night.