A Libyan national, Ahmed Abu Khattala, convicted in the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans was sentenced to 22 years in prison Wednesday by a federal judge in Washington.
A jury in November acquitted Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, of murder and attempted murder in the overnight attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post. But he was convicted on charges including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists, and it was the extent of Abu Khattala’s role as ringleader that U.S. District Judge Christopher R. “Casey” Cooper considered in sentencing him.
Legal analysts said the ability of the government to incapacitate Abu Khattala through a life sentence or its practical equivalent would influence decisions whether to seek civilian prosecutions in similar cases in the future. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence; the defense sought 15 years. While some observers saw Cooper’s judgment as a setback for prosecutors, he cast it otherwise.
“Even if you did not pour the gasoline or light the match, the evidence showed you were aware of the attack, and once the gates were breached, the likelihood someone would die was extremely high. This was not guilt by association,” Cooper told Abu Khattala. “This case stands as an exemplar for the principle that a defendant accused of international terrorism can get a fair trial in the U.S. criminal justice system.”
Federal prosecutors said Abu Khattala helped mastermind a terrorist strike abroad that resulted in the deaths of ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others and that he deserved the maximum punishment.
“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 imposition of the maximum sentence permissible under the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C.