The Libyan militant convicted in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, was sentenced by a federal judge Wednesday to 22 years in prison.
A federal jury in November convicted Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, on four charges related to the overnight attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic compound and nearby CIA post. Khattala was found guilty of conspiracy and providing support to terrorists, but he was acquitted of the most serious charges, including murder and attempted murder.
The government said Khatallah, who headed an extremist militia in Libya, directed a group to attack the compound with AK-47 rifles, grenades and other weapons.
During the violence, Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department official Sean Smith were killed in a fire at one of the compound’s residences. Two more Americans — CIA contractors Tryone S. Woods and Glen Doherty — died in mortar attacks as the carnage moved to the CIA post.
U.S. District Judge Christopher “Casey” Cooper’s sentence is a defeat for prosecutors, who sought a life sentence.
“This fact alone, the first killing of a U.S. ambassador while in the performance of his duties in nearly 40 years, makes this case a truly singular event and warrants the imposition of the maximum sentence permissible under the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. DiLorenzo wrote in a sentencing recommendation.
Defense attorneys had asked for 15 years, challenging the notion that Khatallah was the mastermind behind the attacks. They also challenged the credibility of key witnesses who identified him as a plotter.
Prosecutors maintained that after the attack Khatallah kept in contact with the attackers through a series of phone calls. They also alleged that he prevented emergency responders from getting to the scene. Those actions, prosecutors alleged, indicated that he was a key player in the attack, both before and during the raid.
In a pre-sentence ruling, Judge Cooper indicated that he his sentence may favor the defense. He acknowledged that the jury found the evidence did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Khatallah directly led the attacks.
Khatallah is the first person to be convicted in the Benghazi attacks.
The Benghazi attacks created a political firestorm in the United States. Republicans blamed the attack on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accusing her of not properly ensuring that the compound was secure, trying to downplay the attack as not terrorism, or misdirecting blame for it on a video critical of Islam.