Feds Rest in Prosecution of Suspected Benghazi Mastermind

This courtroom sketch depicts Ahmed Abu Khattalah listening to a interpreter through earphones during the opening statement by assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb, second from left, at federal court in Washington. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The government wrapped up its case against the accused mastermind of the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks Wednesday, capping nearly six weeks of testimony.

Prosecutors questioned government officials Wednesday morning about money paid to the government’s star witness in the case against Ahmed Abu Khattalah – an informant who received $7 million for his help in capturing Khattalah.

The informant, who testified Monday and Tuesday under the pseudonym Ali Majrisi, testified this week he had lured Khattalah into a trap at a beach house in June 2014, where U.S. commandos captured him.

Khattalah’s attorney, assistant federal defender Michelle Peterson, challenged Majrisi’s credibility on Tuesday by questioning whether the promise of a large reward influenced his testimony.

During the time of their acquaintance, Khattalah repeatedly implicated himself in the attacks, Majrisi testified this week. The informant also identified him carrying a Kalashnikov on grainy video footage taken overnight on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, at the U.S. diplomatic compound on the night of the attacks.

On Wednesday, Peterson pressed on with her challenge to the informant’s credibility while questioning government witness Lt. Col. Jason Culliane, suggesting that Majrisi got a head’s up from someone before Khattalah’s capture that he could get reward money if he testified against him.

Culliane said that would not be consistent with Defense Department policy. That money comes with no strings attached with regard to future testimony, he said.

Scott Banker with the Diplomatic Security Service echoed that sentiment in his testimony Wednesday, first describing the State Department’s Counterterrorism Rewards Program during brief testimony.

The program, established in 1984, pays out rewards for information that leads to the arrest or conviction of those involved in international acts of terror against U.S. persons or property.

According to its website, the program paid out $145 million in rewards to more than 90 people, and is currently offering up to $25 million for information leading to the arrest of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the senior leader of the Islamic State Group.

According to Banker, that money is strictly for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.

“All I can tell you is that we do not pay for testimony,” he said. “We would not have paid for testimony.”

Prosecutors also called FBI Special Agent Justin O’Donnell to testify Wednesday morning about the bureau’s role in compensating witnesses.

According to O’Donnell, the FBI paid Majrisi roughly $113,000 to cover the costs of living expenses – including travel costs to bring his family to the United States – and money for lodging and food. The FBI also covered the family’s health care costs and paid for their English lessons.

The payments ended in April 2015, O’Donnell said, after Majrisi received his reward money – $4 million from the Defense Department with the other $3 million from the State Department.

The FBI paid another of the government’s witnesses, Bilal al-Ubydi, roughly $290,000, O’Donnell said, adding those payments were not contingent upon his testimony.

FBI special agent Jessica Krueger, who analyzed phone records for the prosecution team, closed the government’s case.

Krueger said prosecutors asked her to analyze 3,435 phone calls from Aug. 1, 2012, through Oct. 21, 2012, exchanged between Khattalah and several of his associates, who Majrisi also identified on the grainy video footage taken at the U.S. diplomatic compound the night of the attacks.

Calls between the men spiked that night around 8 p.m., about two hours before attackers overran the compound, and tapered off after 2 a.m., Krueger said.

Khattalah’s defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson of Lewis Baach challenged the integrity of the data Krueger worked with, questioning whether it could have been changed before she received it from the prosecution.

Krueger acknowledged the data could be manipulated, and when asked said she did not know if phone calls in Benghazi in general spiked on the night of the incident because she only analyzed those of Khattalah and his associates.

Khattalah, 46, has pleaded not guilty to 18 charges including murder, attempted murder, damaging U.S. facilities and conspiracy to support terrorism for his alleged role in orchestrating the attacks.

His defense team will pick up the case on Monday.

%d bloggers like this: