U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

 

In January 2017, we covered the shooting of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence:

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Director Christian J. Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar entered his guilty plea before U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judge Trenga scheduled Zafar’s sentencing hearing for November, 7, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar armed himself with a firearm, donned a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance, and waited in a parking garage for a Vice Consul, who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara.  Although Zafar initially was following the Vice Consul as he walked towards his vehicle, Zafar noticed a security guard nearby, and instead moved to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the Vice Consul to exit.  As the Vice Consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the Vice Consul in his chest and leaving him in serious condition.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the Vice Consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

“Zia Zafar surveilled and targeted a U.S. official serving in Mexico, lying in wait before shooting him in the chest in a heinous act of premeditated violence,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who seek to harm U.S. officials serving overseas.  The Department of Justice will continue work with our domestic and international partners to ensure that anyone who targets U.S. officials abroad will be brought to justice.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

[…] FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

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Th court filings confirmed much of the details previously reported about this case, though the case remains perplexing.  On January 10, 2017, an Affidavit in Support of a Criminal Complaint was filed by David J. DiMarco, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) assigned to the Extraterritorial Squad, Washington Field Office. Includes the following:

On January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft, the victim, was employed with the U.S.Department of State as a Vice Consul in the Consular office in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Vice Consul, Ashcraft is recognized by the Government of Mexico as a diplomat. As such, Ashcraftwas granted diplomatic immunity in the course of his official duties.

On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Agenda Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to apayment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, hesaw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcraft exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The videothen shows ZAFAR followmg Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to adifferentarea ofthe garage,the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

The criminal complaint filed on January 9, 2017 was originally filed under seal and the offense description is listed as “Attempted Murder of an Internationally Protected Person”.

The AFFIDAVIT by USA as to Zia Zafar was also sealed. The criminal case cover sheet is redacted but includes Zia Zafar’s name, Juvenile FBI file number #316130AC9, and year of birth as 1985. The subject’s race, place of birth, language/dialects are left blank (or redacted, hard to tell).

In April 28, 2017, the Defense filed a motion to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) by Zia Zafar. The filing says that “Sealing of this document is necessary in order to safeguard the privacy and safety of the defendant.”

A Memorandum in Support by Zia Zafar re 28 MOTION to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) also includes the following:

B. Sealing is necessary in order to safeguard the safety and privacy of the defendant. Counsel for the defendant has considered procedures other than sealing and none will suffice to protect this information from disclosure and to prevent public dissemination of information concerning Mr. Webster’s mental health.

Mr. Webster?

On May 5, 2017, there was a Status Conference to determine the competency of the defendant.

On August 11, 2017 there was an Arraignment/Competency Hearing.

On January 12, 2018 the Court granted the Motion for Psychiatric Exam and ordered that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination at the Alexandria Detention Center.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to shooting the U.S. diplomat in Mexico.

The Statement of Facts filed on July 13, 2018 as part of Zafar’s plea agreement is only three page long and notes that Zafar and the diplomat that he attacked did not know each other. According to the Statement, the diplomat was targeted because “the defendant knew from earlier surveillance that he worked at the United States Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.” News citing Mexican officials previously reported that Zafar targeted Ashcraft over a visa denial.

The Affidavit submitted in support of the warrant says Zafar entered Mexico on a student visa, had a California driver’s license and drove a Honda Civic with California license plate. It doesn’t say when he entered Mexico or how long was he residing in the country prior to the attack.

The Affidavit did cite the use of a Starbucks receipt and Mexican immigration database to identify Zafar, and help in his apprehension by Mexican authorities.  It also says that “Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered from the residence.”

The court filings do not indicate what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this incident; there is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.

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Accountability Review Board Cuba Is Coming – Duck and Cover!

 

The Accountabilty Review Board Cuba report is getting ready to drop. Some top folks may look like shit, justifiably, and a few others may as well though so far every senior person in the department is using the whole “I couldn’t do anything because Tillerson and Margaret centralized everything.”

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Under Budget Cut Clouds, Tillerson Visits Memorial For @USEmbassyKenya Bombing Victims

Posted: 2:21 am ET

 

On March 11, Secretary Tillerson delivered the following remarks at the Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the August 7th Memorial Park;  in Nairobi, Kenya.

As all of you well know, 1998 terrorists thought they could demoralize and destroy the Kenyan and American people by attacking the U.S. embassy here in Nairobi. Of course, they were wrong. Nearly 20 years later, we meet here to honor those who we lost and those who were injured. Hundreds of lives were taken and hundreds if not a thousand more were changed forever. Some of our current embassy colleagues who survived this tragedy, including Ambassador Godec and his wife Lori and our current locally employed staff at the embassy that day of the bombing, are with us as well. And it’s an honor to meet all of you, and I appreciate you being here.

To the survivors present, please know that the American people remember your service and your sacrifice as well as those who are not with us today and have been forever lost. Our hearts are with the many who lost family, friends, and colleagues on that tragic day.

Today we remember them and their bravery, the compassion, and the sacrifice, as well as many who without hesitation that day and at risk to themselves rushed into action to save lives and help others. We honor those heroes and the courage they displayed as well. They are all examples to us.

As our work continues to end terrorism, those who sought to divide us here have failed. Our commitment to work together as Americans and Kenyans is steadfast, it is enduring, and we will build on the shared values and our shared future, which remains very strong. We will never forget the names on this wall. Thank you.

The FBI says that the investigation continues, with the following fugitives still wanted for their alleged roles in the attacks:

January 1999: Report of the Accountability Review Boards on the Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam on August 7, 1998.

As the NYT notes, the Africa Embassy bombings “may have done more to transform the State Department than any other event of the past 50 years.”

It also points a fact that’s not lost on anyone — “Mr. Tillerson has twice proposed slashing the department’s budget to about $35 billion from about $50 billion, saying that doing so would return spending levels to those before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

And just watch, he won’t stop at his second try.

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Can sound be used as a weapon? 4 questions answered #USEmbassyHavana

 

File 20180226 122025 13a2tfq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What happened to people inside this building, the U.S. Embassy in Havana? U.S. State Department

Kevin Fu, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Zhejiang University

 

Editor’s note: Government and academic investigators continue to probe reports from Cuba that, starting in 2016 and continuing through 2017, U.S. and Canadian diplomats and tourists may have been subjected to a “sonic weapon,” damaging their hearing, causing nausea, speech problems and potentially even mild brain injuries.

Electrical engineering and computer science professors Wenyuan Xu from Zhejiang University and Kevin Fu from the University of Michigan explain their research, which suggests a more likely scenario of sloppy engineering, and what ultrasound frequencies (which can be used to transmit information gathered by listening devices) traveling through the air can – and can’t – do.

1. What is ultrasound useful for?

The most commonly known use for ultrasound – high-frequency sound waves human ears can’t hear – is a medical device used for examining a fetus during pregnancy. But there are plenty of other uses. Many offices have occupancy sensors that use ultrasound to detect movement and keep the lights on when someone is in a space, and off when nobody is around. These sensors operate at frequencies such as 32 kilohertz, far above what the human ear can hear – which is a range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. Other products use ultrasound to deliver targeted sound, for instance allowing a museum to play a recording for visitors in one area of an exhibit without disturbing others nearby. Electronic pest repellents use ultrasound to keep rodents or insects at bay. A similar product can even be used to disperse teenagers; aging tends to reduce people’s ability to hear higher frequency sounds, so a noisemaker can annoy young people without adults even noticing. (This has also let teens create smartphone ringtones their elders can’t hear.)

2. What can go wrong with ultrasound?

Airborne ultrasound is not inherently bad. But things can go wrong. A former colleague of Kevin’s used to hear strange sounds from his hearing aid when in rooms with occupancy sensors, likely because the hearing aid’s electronics improperly converted the ultrasound into audible noises. These noises were annoying, but not harmful. A similar problem tainted one of our students’ research, conducted in a room that, unbeknownst to him, had an ultrasonic room occupancy sensor in the ceiling.

Michigan Ph.D. student Connor Bolton frustratingly discovers that ultrasonic noise from a ceiling-mounted room occupancy sensor had interfered with a year’s worth of sonic experiments. Connor Bolton, CC BY-ND

Both ultrasound and human-audible sound can also affect electronics. For instance, one of us has conducted research in which carefully crafted ultrasonic signals secretly activate voice-control systems, even unlocking an iPhone with a silent “Hey Siri” command, and telling it to make a FaceTime call. Sound can also affect the physical world, as when a singer shatters a wine glass. Microelectrical mechanical sensing chips – such as accelerometers used in car airbag systems and smartphones, and gyroscopes in drones – are susceptible to the same interference. Those systems can be attacked with sound, crashing a drone mid-flight, or fooling a smartphone about whether it’s moving.

Making audible sounds from inaudible ultrasounds.

3. Should people worry about ultrasound causing bodily harm?

It’s well-known that sounds that are too loud can damage people’s ears and hearing. However, there’s little evidence of ultrasound causing bodily harm without prolonged, direct physical contact at high intensity. If you are accidentally subjected to extremely intense ultrasound (such as when holding an ultrasonic arc welder), you could experience an annoyance like a headache or temporary loss of balance. Academics disagree about safe levels of airborne ultrasound. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns of potential health risks from audible subharmonic byproducts of ultrasound, more so than the ultrasound itself. Many animals can hear higher frequencies than humans. Dogs can hear higher-pitched whistles, for instance. One of our students noticed that his pet turtles would begin to dance rhythmically when he performed ultrasound experiments!

4. What might have happened in Cuba?

In early 2017, U.S. diplomats in Cuba reported hearing strange metallic sounds, and suffering hearing loss and other neurological harm. Later reports of similar effects came from Canadian diplomats and tourists from both Canada and the U.S. Possible explanations have varied: Some have alleged Cuba used an unknown sonic weapon, while others have blamed “mass hysteria.”

Our research offers a new explanation not previously considered by others: The true cause could have been equipment trying to listen in on the diplomats’ and visitors’ conversations. We were able to use ultrasonic tones to create sounds like those that were described and recorded in Cuba. No single ultrasonic tone would do this, but as with musical combination tones, combining more than one can create audible byproduct sounds, including by accident.

A recording of the sound some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana.

 

Further, we created a proof-of-concept eavesdropping device that would record audible conversations and transmit the recordings to a nearby surveillance team over an inaudible ultrasonic link. When we placed a second inaudible ultrasonic device in the area, we were able to create interference – technically called “intermodulation distortion” – between the two signals that made similar sounds to those recorded in Cuba. We were even able to control the volume of the audible sounds by varying the strength of the ultrasonic signals. The ConversationWithout additional evidence, our research does not identify what actually happened in Cuba, but it provides a plausible explanation for what might have happened, even if the eavesdroppers were not trying to harm people.

Kevin Fu, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Zhejiang University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Portrait of a Diplomat: Ambassador “Spike” Dubs (1920-1979) #athingofthespirit

Posted: 3:26 am ET

 

This year marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph “Spike” Dubs in Kabul. He was appointed Ambassador to Afghanistan in 1978 following a coup d’etat. On February 14, 1979, Dubs was kidnapped by armed militants posing as police.

According to ADST, documents later released from KGB archives in the 1990s showed that “the Afghan government clearly authorized an assault on the kidnappers despite forceful U.S. demands for peaceful negotiations and that the KGB adviser on the scene may have recommended the assault as well as the execution of a kidnapper before U.S. experts could interrogate him.

FSO Bruce Flatin was the Political Counselor in Kabul at the time of Dubs’ assassination. He was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy in 1993. Read more from his oral history interview in The Assassination of Ambassador Spike Dubs — Kabul, 1979. Bruce K. Byers who was USIS Press Attaché at U.S. Embassy Kabul from 1978-79 wrote Remembering Ambassador Dubs, and the Future of Afghanistan for American Diplomacy in 2009.  Ambassador Dubs is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Most recently, David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park posted  in The Text Message blog his Tribute to a Fallen Diplomat that includes a 1979 cable about Ambassador Dubs:

While the outline of his career covers all the bureaucratic bases, it does not reflect the ambassador’s achievements nor does it reveal the man.  The editors of the WASHINGTON STAR asked Warren Zimmerman, a former subordinate of Dubs at a posting in Yugoslavia and then working in the U.S. embassy in Paris, for a contribution about the ambassador.  In response, he prepared a draft under the title “Portrait of a Diplomat” that he sent to Washington in the following telegram, from the Central Foreign Policy Files (NAID 654098).

Clips from the Zimmerman’s February 1979 cable below. Click here to read the entire cable via NARA.

 

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Suicide Attack With an Explosive Device at U.S. Embassy Podgorica #Montenegro

Posted: 2:37 am ET
Updated: Feb 28, 11:20 pm PT

 

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US Embassy Cuba: New Mechanism For Brain Injury From an “Exposure of Unknown Origin”

Posted: 12:39 am ET

 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was selected to coordinate the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of 21 government personnel (11 women and 10 men) identified by the State Department and evaluated an average of 203 days following exposure to reported sound (described as “buzzing,” “grinding  metal,” “piercing squeals” or “humming”) and sensory phenomena (described as pressure-like or vibrating and likened to air “baffling” inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down) at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.

“It’s like a concussion without a concussion.”

“Of the 21 individuals assessed at Penn, 17 reported cognitive or behavioral problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or both. “It’s not that any patient can’t do a given task, but it requires way more effort,” said coauthor Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “They don’t have as much cognitive reserve.”

The author and his coauthors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the State Department, “so they cannot discuss whether they know more about what happened in Havana than has already been made public.”

The study concludes that “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”

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Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba

Posted: 3:34 am ET

 

The State Department’s new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein  did a press gaggle on January 9 and was asked about the convening of an Accountability Review Board for the attacks against American diplomats in Havana. He said that he expects announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week. He also told the press “We believe that the Cuban Government knows what occurred, and so what we’d like them to do is to tell us what occurred so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

He told members of the media that the USG “is not considering restoring the staff” at US Embassy Havana, and that the State Department is “providing extensive medical care to people that need it,” and that the agency “have also made it clear that if people do not want to serve in that particular embassy, they do not have to.”

When asked about Senator Marco Rubio’s comments that it’s against the law that it took –rather than 60 or 120 days– almost a year to stand up ARB Havana, U/S Goldstein responded:

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. Well, I – we have great respect for the senator, and he shares our concern about trying to reach resolution on this matter. It took time to set up the accountability review board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. We were – the investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, and – but it is now time to go forward. And again, we would expect the – I would expect the names to be announced over the next several days. I do have the names, I just can’t – I’m not – I want to make sure that the people have been notified.

QUESTION: — by failing to announce or create this review board back in July, that the – that you had confirmed that people were seriously wounded by March or May, that the law requires if you know that a State Department personnel is seriously wounded, that you create a review board within 60 days or tell Congress why you’re not doing so. That is the clear letter of the law. You did not follow it. That’s what he claims. What is your response to that?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. We don’t agree with that. The assistant secretary today made clear, and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we have the – had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. We’ve – the government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.

When an ARB should be convened is in the rules book once it was determined that the incident was security-related with serious injury.  For folks who want a refresher, per 12 FAM 030, the Accountability Review Board process is a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.

Security-related incidents are defined as “A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area combatant commander), and which does not clearly involve only causes unrelated to security.”

(See U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage?)

12 FAM 032.1 updated in October 2017 notes that the ARB/Permanent Coordinating Committee will, “as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.  (Due to the 1999 revision of the law requiring the Secretary to convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such period may be extended for one additional 60-day period, the ARB/PCC will meet within 30 days of the incident if enough information is available.) In addition, the ARB/PCC will meet yearly to review the ARB process, existing policies and procedures, and all past ARB recommendations, and ensure that any necessary changes are effected.”

So we gotta ask an uncomfortable question for the Tillerson State Department — is it possible that no ARB Havana was convened because the eight positions who are members of the PCC, an entity tasked with making recommendations to the Secretary was not filled or only partially filled?

Did the ARB/PCC meet on the Havana incidents last year? What recommendations were made to the Secretary? Why are they convening an ARB just now?

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U.S. Embassy Havana: Doctors Identify Brain Abnormalities in Cuba Attack Patients

Posted: 1:10 am ET

 

AND NOW THIS —

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Libyan Khatallah Convicted of Terrorism Charges, Acquitted of Murder in Benghazi Attack

Posted: 4:32 pm PT
Updated: Nov 29, 1:54 pm PT – with tweet from State Department spokesperson

 

We previously blogged about this case in 2014 (see U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack).  On November 28, DOJ announced that Ahmed Abu Khatallah, aka Ahmed Mukatallah, 46, a Libyan national, was found guilty by a jury of federal terrorism charges and other offenses stemming from the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya.  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attack at the Mission and the nearby Annex in Benghazi.

We have not seen an official statement from Tillerson’s State Department as of this writing. We will update this when it becomes available.

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