Why did it take so long to track down Ahmed Abu Khattala? Questions for US after capture of jihadist leader

Man accused of 2012 Benghazi attack lived openly in the city for two years

Defence Correspondent

Two years after the US ambassador to Libya was killed in Benghazi, a jihadist leader accused of leading the lethal attack has been captured in a raid by American special forces at his home and spirited out of the country.

But the accusations and recriminations that followed the murders of Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the time have continued, with questions being asked about why it has taken so long to apprehend Ahmed Abu Khattala, who had not only continued to live openly in the city but also repeatedly gave interviews to the media about his role that night.

There were complaints of  blatant infringement of national sovereignty by the Libyan government, which denied US claims that it had been informed of the operation. Justice minister Saleh al-Marghani  said: “We stress our right to try Abu Khattala on our territory according to our laws.” 

Last year, American forces seized Nazih Andul-Hamed al-Ruqai, wanted in connection with the 1998 east Africa embassy bombings, in Tripoli. The Libyan authorities maintained that they had been kept in the dark.

It later emerged, from diplomatic sources, that the Libyan government was, in fact, told about the Abu Khattala mission – but only after it had been completed. The Americans were said to have been concerned that any prior revelation of information may have been leaked to the target, or may even have led to the Delta Force unit carrying out the task being ambushed.

Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured by US special forces on Sunday (AP) Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured by US special forces on Sunday (AP) Nevertheless, the capture was a piece of positive news for the White House beset by grim developments in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and with the Middle East peace process at an impasse.

Barack Obama said: “The United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans. We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

The Delta Force team that carried out the raid had apparently been carrying out practice runs at a mock-up of Mr Abu Khattala’s neighbourhood at their base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with preparations, which also involved the FBI, lasting more than a year.

Mr Abu Khattala lived in the el-Leith district of Benghazi, known as a fundamentalist area, but he had taken no special precautions over his security, inviting journalists to hear what happened at the time of the September 2012 killings. He was last seen by neighbours leaving his home with assault rifles over each shoulder.

Mr Abu Khattala had made enemies within his country. During the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, a small jihadist group he had formed and led, Obaida Ibn Al Jarrah, was accused of playing a part in the assassination of  Abdul Fatah Younis, a regime general who had joined the opposition.

Mr Abu Khattala had gained a reputation in eastern Libya as a violent and unpredictable leader. However, although he had often professed his admiration for Osama Bin Laden, conservative Muslim politicians in Benghazi cast doubts on American claims that he was a senior international al-Qaeda operative.

One Libyan MP reflected: “He did become a leader, but a local one. He was put in prison by Gaddafi, but did not mix with many other prisoners. He believed in what he was doing, but he is also quite ignorant: I don’t think he’s 100 per cent mentally fit.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Extras
indybest
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - 9-12 Months

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is immedi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Communications Executive

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness