Trial to begin for suspected ringleader in Benghazi attacks

Libyan pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison if convicted

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WASHINGTON — Ahmed Abu Khattala insisted he was only a bystander as the gunfire crackled and then exploded after sundown five years ago in Benghazi, Libya.

Starting Monday, he is set to stand trial in Washington for conspiring to kill four Americans as the accused ringleader of the lethal, nighttime assaults on U.S. diplomatic and intelligence facilities on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012.

Abu Khattala, a 46-year-old Libyan who was a leader in an extremist anti-Western militia, is the only person to face trial in the United States for the fatal attacks that included U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens among its victims.

In announcing Abu Khattala’s capture in June 2014, during a secret nighttime raid by U.S. commandos, then-president Barack Obama said efforts to bring those responsible for the attacks were continuing but “with this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans.”

Abu Khattala has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts including conspiracy, murder and material support of terrorists for the deaths of Stevens, State Department communications expert Sean Patrick Smith and security contractors Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty.

He faces up to life in prison if convicted in federal court.