US seizes Syrian man over 2012 Benghazi attack

He allegedly had links to the suspected ringleader

17:17 October 31, 2017

BENGHAZI, Libya: A man seized by US forces in Libya accused of involvement in an attack that killed the US Ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 is a Syrian who had links to the suspected ringleader, Libyan military officials said on Tuesday.

US special forces captured Mustafa Al Imam in the past few days and he is being transported to the United States, US officials said on Monday, without giving more details.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, eastern-based military officials told Reuters Imam was believed to be a Syrian national aged between 35 and 40.

He had lived in the Benghazi district of Laithi where he frequented the same Al-Awza’i mosque as suspected ringleader Ahmad Abu Khatallah who was snatched by US forces in 2014, the officials said.

US prosecutors opened their case against Abu Khatallah this month.

Imam has been charged with “killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility” and providing “material support to terrorists resulting in death,” the US Justice Department said. He will appear before a federal judge in Washington when he arrives in the United States.

Laithi was an Islamist stronghold that saw some of the heaviest fighting in a battle for control of Benghazi that began in 2014.

In July, eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar announced victory in the campaign, which pitted his Libyan National Army (LNA) against Islamists and other opponents.

Officials at the UN-backed government in Tripoli could not be reached for comment. The country has rival governments: one in the capital and another in the east allied to Haftar.

An eastern news agency backing the LNA published what it said was a picture of Imam standing in front of the Benghazi barracks of an armed group before it was taken by Haftar’s forces. It said he had been captured by US forces in the western city of Misrata.

The Benghazi attack, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, was the topic of numerous congressional hearings, with Republican lawmakers critical of the way in which then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled the attack.

Meanwhile, at least 12 people have been killed in an air strike in Libya’s besieged eastern extremist stronghold of Derna, a medical source said on Tuesday.

Most of the victims, including women and children, are from the same family, the source at the Harish hospital said, adding that three people were left critically wounded by the bombing conducted Monday evening.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the strike.

The attack has not been claimed by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, which have been besieging Derna for months and regularly conduct air strikes against the eastern city.

Derna, some 900km east of Tripoli, was known for being a bastion of extremists even before the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar’s forces are waging a campaign against extremists groups, including efforts to capture the city from the “Revolutionary Shura Council of Derna”, a coalition of militias close to Al Qaida.

Egypt in late May said it launched strikes in the region of Derna after a bloody attack on its soil claimed by Daesh that left 29 people dead.