Feds Preview Evidence Against Accused Benghazi Mastermind

WASHINGTON (CN) – An upcoming trial of the man accused of masterminding the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, will feature testimony from co-conspirators, prosecutors said Tuesday.

News of the evidence came to light this morning at a conference for Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a 46-year-old Libyan slated to be tried in Washington on Sept. 25.

The government said it will not present direct evidence that Khatallah fired any of the mortars launched on Sept. 11, 2012, against the consular annex in Benghazi. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was among four Americans killed in the attack.

Although the government has no eye witnesses to the mortar launches. U.S. attorney John Crabb said the government will show that Khatallah had connections to key figures in the attacks, had access to mortars and had trained his men to use them.

One opposition brief from the government, dated July 10, promises the introduction of “eyewitness testimony, video tapes, defendant’s statements, telephone records showing contact among the conspirators, and seizures of evidence related to the conspiracy.”

The government also wants to use statements Khatallah made before and after the attack, which Crabb called “unabashed” in their expression of anti-American sentiment. Noting Khatallah’s efforts to hide and hire extra security after the attack, the assistant U.S. attorney said this behavior reflects a “consciousness of guilt.”

Jeffrey Robinson, a defense attorney for Khatallah, objected to this proposition.

“There is a purely reasonable reason for the purported actions of Mr. Khatallah,” Robinson said.

Khatallah’s defense says the context of Libya’s civil war cannot be ignored. Compounding a weapons influx and deteriorating security, the United States in 2013 captured Anas al-Libi, accused of playing a key role in dual bombings in 1998 of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 200 hundred and injured 500 more.

Crabb countered with video surveillance of al-Imam, a close associate of Khatallah, entering an office at the diplomatic compound and removing sensitive items, including a map.

At Khatallah’s trial, Crabb said, the government plans to call a witness who will identify the map. Coordinates on the map could have been used to plan and launch the attack on the compound, Crabb added.

Robinson called this an “insufficient logical connection,” and suggested the government is trying to work Khatallah’s knowledge of mortars backward to make its theory work.

The government said Tuesday it has 53 proposed witnesses, and plans to call several family members of the four Americans killed during the attacks.

Presentment of the government’s case against Khatallah is expected to take four weeks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julieanne Himelstein said.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper is slated to begin jury selection from among a pool of 125 prescreened potential jurors next week. Voir dire will begin on Sept. 18.

Khatallah’s defense team asked Tuesday to see the prescreening form to better understand how jurors were eliminated from that pool.


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