WASHINGTON — A lawyer for a Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks said Wednesday she had seen no evidence tying her client to the violence, but a judge nonetheless directed Ahmed Abu Khattala to remain in custody as the Justice Department builds its case against him.
Lawyer Michelle Peterson conceded that Abu Khattala had no reasonable chance of being released at the moment, given the terrorism-related charge he faces and his lack of ties to the United States. But she also argued that prosecutors had failed to show he was in anyway connected to the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"What's been filed has shown, quite frankly, an utter lack of evidence of Mr. Khattala's involvement in the incident in Benghazi," said Peterson, an assistant federal public defender. "We are left to glean from press reports what the government's evidence is."
Abu Khattala appeared in court wearing a green prison jumpsuit and with a long, graying beard. He listened to the proceedings through headphones as an interpreter translated the conversation into Arabic. Peterson requested that while in jail he be served a halal diet and be provided a copy of the Quran.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo recited some of the basic allegations of the case, telling U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson there were no conditions under which Abu Khattala could be released that would ensure the safety of the community.
The court appearance was the second in the past week for Abu Khattala, who was captured June 15 by U.S. special forces and then transported to the United States aboard a Navy boat where federal agents interrogated him. He has pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiring to provide support to terrorists, a crime punishable by up to life in prison, but the Justice Department has said it expects to bring additional charges that could reveal more information about the case.
Prosecutors this week disclosed some additional details of their case against Abu Khattala.
They alleged in a court filing that he was motivated to participate in the attacks by an extremist ideology. The government says Abu Khattala was a commander of Abu Obaida bin Jarrah Brigade, an extremist group that was absorbed into Ansar al-Sharia after the recent Libyan revolution.
On the night of the attacks, the government says, at least 20 militants — armed with AK-47s and grenade launchers — breached the gate of the consulate compound and set buildings on fire. The fire led to the deaths of Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Patrick Smith.