WASHINGTON (CN) – During the sixth week of trial over the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans, the government called a key witness who earned more than $7 million for his cooperation in the capture of suspected mastermind Ahmed Abu Khattalah.
Appearing in court under the pseudonym Ali Majrisi for his family’s safety, the Libyan informant said he lured Khattalah to a beach house late on June 14, 2014, where U.S. forces were waiting.
"We were both arrested," Majrisi testified on Monday through an Arabic translator. The 40-year-old said he was released immediately and fled to Tunisia after catching a few hours of sleep, traveling on to a third country. Khattalah, meanwhile, was captured and taken to a ship offshore to make a three-week trek to the U.S.
In surprising testimony Monday, Majrisi said that raid nearly didn't happen because he had grown weary with the operation.
"It took too long," he said. "And it wore me out and accompanying him put me under suspicion."
The informant said he suggested killing Khattalah, and offered to do it himself.
When pressed by prosecutor John Crabb to explain why, the informant said: "So I can be at rest finally and my city would be at rest, because this person is a murderer."
Khattalah, 46, has pleaded not guilty to 18 charges and is the only person so far to stand trial for the deadly attacks carried out overnight on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, by militants who overran a U.S. diplomatic compound and later attacked a nearby CIA annex with mortars. The attacks killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The capture of Khattalah was the culmination of more than a year and a half of planning, with Majrisi deeply involved, according to eight hours of testimony Monday and Tuesday.
U.S. government officials first approached the informant in late 2012 to assist with the investigation of the attacks. Majrisi said he balked at first, hesitant to get involved in the operation, but eventually agreed.
Explaining his motivations to a federal grand jury in Washington, he said: "I am against terrorism and against extremism," adding that he also wanted to help the United States. "The United States did us a favor; it helped us through the revolution."
The U.S. government contends that Ansar al-Sharia, a U.S.-designated terror group that wants to establish Islamic law in Libya, carried out the attacks on the diplomatic compound and CIA annex.
After U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, struck as hearsay Majrisi’s testimony that he heard Khattalah was the leader of Ubaydah Ibin al-Jarrah – a component of Ansar al-Sharia – the informant reworded his statement.
Majrisi said he had seen Khattalah interacting with members of the group, which he said had extremist ideologies, and which carried black flags that said the Islamic shahada, or proclamation of faith: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet.”
Surveillance video played during the course of the trial shows several of the attackers carrying black flags.
The United States paid Majrisi for the duration of the operation to capture Khattalah, giving him monthly payments of $2,500 and later increasing that amount to $5,000. The government also gave him a reward of $7 million – paid in two installments – about eight or nine months after Khattalah was captured, he testified Tuesday.