Judge Won’t Let Accused Terrorist Slide

WASHINGTON (CN) – The United States can add two charges against a Libyan for the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, a federal judge ruled, as the attack was within the United States’ special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.
     The U.S. military captured Ahmed Salim Faraj Abu Khatallah in Benghazi on June 15, 2014, almost a year after a criminal indictment accused him of involvement in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
     The indictment describes Abu Khatallah, who is thought to be about 44, as the leader of an Islamic extremist militia in Libya who provided material support and resources for the consulate attack.
     The superseding indictment charges Abu Khatallah with 18 criminal counts. He sought dismissal of all charges on Dec. 23, 2015, claiming he was not properly extradited from Libya.
     The court rejected all but two of his arguments, and asked for more briefing on those: “maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and property and placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
     Abu Khatallah argued that it was “absurd” to charge him with placing a U.S. national in danger because his actions were taken against property, without knowing whether a person, let alone a U.S. national, was in the consulate building.
     But U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper called that charge “far from absurd,” under the federal Hostage Taking Act. Cooper added that federal law prohibiting destruction of aircraft, for instance, provides jurisdiction, whether a defendant knew that a U.S. national was on board, or might have been on board, or not.
     “It is not categorically absurd to permit prosecutions based on the ‘arbitrary presence’ of certain factual circumstances – including victim characteristics – that coincide with otherwise-proscribed behavior. A person need not have known that the victim of his crime was a U.S. national for jurisdiction to lie under 18 U.S.C. § 7(9),” Cooper wrote.
     He refused to dismiss counts 16 and 17.

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