November 28, 2017 / 9:32 PM / 16 days ago

U.S. jury acquits accused Benghazi attack organizer of most serious charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. jury on Tuesday acquitted accused Islamic militant Ahmed Abu Khatallah of the most serious charges he faced in connection with a 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The jury in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found Khatallah guilty on only four of the 18 counts he faced and acquitted him on murder and other charges, according to the Justice Department.

He was convicted on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, one count of providing material support to terrorists, one count of maliciously destroying property and one count of using and carrying a semiautomatic weapon during a violent crime, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The jury reached its verdict after five days of deliberations.

Khatallah is the first person to be tried in connection with the 2012 attack in Benghazi. A second person alleged to be involved, Mustafa al-Imam, made his first court appearance earlier this month.

The case marks a major test of the government’s ability to capture and try alleged terrorists in civilian courts rather than military proceedings.

In a message to Central Intelligence Agency staff on Tuesday, Director Mike Pompeo said a “small measure of justice was meted out” by the verdict.

In this case, prosecutors acknowledged that Khatallah did not directly participate in the attack on the U.S. consulate or nearby CIA annex.

Rather, they sought to convince the jury that he helped orchestrate it behind the scenes.

Khatallah was captured in 2014 by U.S. military and FBI officials in Libya and transported to the United States aboard a Navy vessel.

He was first questioned by U.S. intelligence officials and later by the FBI. Khatallah waived his right to speak first with an attorney, and prosecutors used his statements in the trial.

They also presented evidence including phone records showing that the defendant made calls to his associates right before they were captured on grainy videos participating in the attack and testimony from a variety of witnesses.

Defense attorneys for Khatallah said the witnesses lacked credibility, especially one witness who was paid $7 million to inform on their client and lure to him the place where he was captured.

Khatallah faces a statutory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for each of the two terrorism charges, 20 years for the property destruction charge and 10 years for the firearms offense.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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