The United States has filed the first criminal charges in response to last year’s attack on a diplomatic mission in Libya, CNN reported on Tuesday, marking the biggest step to date in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
According to the report on CNN’s The Lead, Ahmed Abu Khatallah was charged under seal in New York, in relation to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American citizens. The exact nature of the charges are currently unknown and the FBI and Justice Department have refused to comment on matters that are under seal.
Khatallah is linked to the Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah, one of the militias that has served as the de facto military within many parts of the country since the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moamar Ghadaffi. Ansar al-Sharia has also long been one of the prime suspects under investigation for carrying out the attack. Other individuals are still under investigation, CNN reporter Evan Perez told The Lead host Jake Tapper, and may have charges brought against them in the near future.
Khatelleh’s whereabouts have not exactly been secret in the months since the attack. Last month, CNN’s Arwa Damon sat down for an interview with the militia leader, who told her that nobody from the U.S. government had gotten in touch with him regarding the investigation into the assault. Previously, profiles had been written about Khatelleh in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal alike ran within weeks of the assault.
In his interview with the Times, Khatallah said that U.S. politicians were “playing with the emotions of the American people” and “using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections.” He also at the time said that he had nothing to do with the attack, despite witnesses placing him at the scene during the night of the assault. He also praised Ansar al-Sharia as “good people with good goals, which are trying to implement Islamic law,” who are “bigger than a brigade [...] It is a movement.”
The only previous suspect in the case, Tunisian national Ali Ani al-Harzi, was released from custody in January for lack of evidence. The lack of apparent progress has angered opponents of the Obama administration in the past, who allege that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to bring the killers of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others to justice.