Benghazi suspect pleads not guilty before judge

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Benghazi suspect pleads not guilty before judge
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on in the Rose Garden of the White House September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke on the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American dead. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) makes a statement about the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Rose Garden at the White House September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed when the embassy in Benghazi was attacked by a mob potentially angered by an American-made video mocking Islam's founding prophet. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks at her weekly news briefing Friday, May 9, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Democrats stand deeply divided over whether to participate in a Republican-led investigation of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, with party leader Nancy Pelosi calling the newest probe a "political stunt." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Rep Darrell Issa, R-CA, speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Benghazi attacks in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on September 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 17: Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., speaks with ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., before the start of the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing on 'Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations' on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
FILE - This April 8, 2014 file photo shows Secretary of State Kerry testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Speaker John Boehner on Friday declared he’d schedule a vote to create a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, escalating a political battle that has raged since the final days of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Separately Friday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of several that have investigating Benghazi, said he would subpoena Kerry to testify about the administration’s response to the attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - The Libyan militant charged in the Benghazi attacks has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.

Ahmed Abu Khattala (hah-TAH'-lah) made his initial appearance in federal court in the nation's capital on Saturday.

A grand jury indictment says Abu Khattala took part in a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists in the 2012 attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Abu Khattala was flown by a military helicopter from a Navy ship to Washington earlier Saturday.

In court, he wore a two-piece black track suit and kept his hands behind his back. He looked impassively at the judge for most of a 10-minute court hearing.

Libyan Suspect in Benghazi Attack Pleads Not Guilty in Washington


THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks was in federal law enforcement custody, the U.S. attorney's office said Saturday. Security at the capital's federal courthouse was heightened in anticipation of a possible court appearance by the suspect later in the day.

Spokesman William Miller declined further immediate comment regarding Ahmed Abu Khattala, who faces criminal charges in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans from the attack on Sept. 11, 2012.

U.S. special forces captured Abu Khattala in Libya two weeks ago, marking the first breakthrough in the investigation of the Benghazi attacks. Officials had been questioning Abu Khattala aboard a Navy amphibious transport dock ship that transported him from to the United States.

Abu Khattala was flown by military helicopter from the ship to a National Park Service landing pad in the city's Anacostia neighborhood, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the transfer publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

A criminal complaint filed last year that was unsealed after his capture charges him with terror-related crimes, including killing a person during an attack on a federal facility, a crime that can be punishable by death.

Abu Khattala may face a judge as soon as Saturday for an initial court appearance at which the government would outline the charges against him. He almost certainly would remain in detention while the Justice Department sought a federal grand jury indictment against him.

The prosecution in a courthouse in the nation's capital reflects the Obama administration's stated position of trying suspected terrorists in the American criminal justice system even as Republicans call for Abu Khattala and others to be held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics say suspected terrorists don't deserve the legal protections afforded by the American court. The Obama administration considers the civilian justice system fairer and more efficient.

The violence on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon quickly became a political flashpoint. Republicans accused the White House, as the 2012 presidential election neared, of intentionally misleading the public about what prompted the attacks. The White House, meanwhile, accused Republicans of politicizing a national tragedy.

Abu Khattala, a prominent figure in Benghazi's circles of extremists, was popular among young radicals and lived openly in the eastern Libyan city, spotted at cafes and other public places, even after the Obama administration publicly named him as a suspect. He is accused of being a member of the Ansar al-Shariah group, the powerful Islamic militia that the U.S. believes was behind the attack.

He acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press in January that he was present during the storming of the U.S. mission in Benghazi. But he denied involvement in the attack, saying he was trying to organize a rescue of trapped people.

In the attack, gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades and stormed the mission, with many waving the black banners of Ansar al-Shariah, a powerful Islamic militia.

The compound's main building was set ablaze. Ambassador Chris Stevens suffocated to death inside and another American was shot dead. Later in the evening, gunmen attacked and shelled a safe house, killing two more Americans.

At the time, several witnesses said they saw Abu Khattala directing fighters at the site.

No evidence has emerged that Abu Khattala was involved in the later attack on the safe house.

Abu Khattala is one of just a few cases in which the administration has captured a suspected terrorist overseas and interrogated him for intelligence purposes before bringing him to federal court to face charges.

Those cases include Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was arrested in Jordan in March 2013 and turned over to U.S. agents. A jury in New York City convicted him in March of conspiring to kill Americans.

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