What can Ahmed Abu Khattala tell us about Benghazi?

What can Ahmed Abu Khattala tell us about Benghazi?
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

On Sunday, U.S. special forces and the FBI nabbed Ahmed Abu Khattala, a lead suspect in the deadly September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Abu Khattala was reportedly taken from the streets of Benghazi in a very short commando raid, without a shot being fired, and is now on his way to Washington to face criminal charges for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The Justice Department has handed down a sealed indictment of Abu Khattala, and the State Department in January designated him a terrorist and a leader of Ansar al Sharia, an Islamist militant group with loose ties to al Qaeda. The suspected Benghazi attack ringleader was interrogated under a public-safety exemption before being read his Miranda rights against self-incrimination. What might investigators and, eventually, the public learn from Abu Khattala?

The first priority would be pumping him for any information about planned attacks. The U.S. told the United Nations Security Council on Sunday that Abu Khattala "continued to plan further armed attacks against U.S. persons," and capturing him was "therefore necessary to prevent such armed attacks," Reuters reports. Other U.S. officials described Abu Khattala as an "active threat."

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Second, investigators will want information on who else was involved with the Benghazi attack. "Our investigation will remain ongoing as we work to identify and arrest any co-conspirators," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday. While the U.S. State Department considers Abu Khattala a leader of Ansar al Sharia, The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick calls him a "local, small-time Islamist militant" with "no known connections to international terrorist groups." He did form a local (and brutal) militia called Obeida Ibn Al Jarra and was, according to witnesses, a visible leader of the Benghazi attack, Kirkpatrick says, though Ansar al Sharia "also played a prominent role in the attack."

Finally, Khattala probably holds the keys to what everyone says they want to know about the Benghazi attack: What happened and why? As Kirkpatrick says, "the thriving industry of conspiracy theories, political scandals, talk show chatter, and congressional hearings may now confront the man federal investigators say played the central role in the attack." Let's hope so.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.