Libyan National in 2012 Benghazi Terrorist Attack Sentenced to More Than 19 Years in Prison

 

On October 31, 2017, we posted about the capture of Libyan national Mustafa al-Imam by U.S. special forces in Misrata, on the north coast of Libya. He was alleged to be involved in the 2012 deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya.  An unnamed official told the AP at that time that the suspect was taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport to the United States. (see Libyan National Charged in 2012 Attack on U.S. Special Mission and Annex in #Benghazi).  On June 17, 2019, DOJ announced that hel was found guilty of terrorism charges in the 2012 attack of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi. (see Libyan National Mustafa al-Imam Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in 2012 Benghazi Attack (June 24, 2019).
On January 23, 2020, DOJ announced that Mustafa Al-Imam was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. See below:

Mustafa Al-Imam Sentenced to More than 19 Years in Prison for September 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, Libya

Mustafa al-Imam, a 47-year-old Libyan national, was sentenced today to 236 months in prison on federal terrorism charges and other offenses stemming from the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission and CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya.  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty died in the attack.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, Jay Tabb, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office.

“We have not rested in our efforts to bring to justice those involved in the terrorist attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, which led to the death of four courageous Americans – Tyrone Woods, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Ambassador Christopher Stevens – and we never will,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “Those responsible for these crimes must be held accountable.  I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors – and all of their partners in the U.S. government – who are responsible for this important investigation.”

“Today’s sentence demonstrates the United States’ continuing commitment to pursue justice against those who commit terrorist acts against the United States no matter how far we must go or how long it takes. Mustafa al-Imam played an important role in the terrorist attack that destroyed the U.S. Mission and the CIA Annex in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to pursue justice against all those who murdered these four American heroes and who seriously injured our personnel defending these U.S. facilities overseas.”

“The tragic loss of four American lives in the Benghazi attacks will never be forgotten and today’s sentencing of Mustafa al-Imam is an important reminder of that,” said Jay Tabb, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “The FBI is committed to investigate and bring to justice all individuals involved in acts of terrorism against U.S. facilities or citizens and will use the full range of our resources to pursue such cases.”

“Mustafa al-Imam played a significant role in the 2012 Benghazi attack, one that ultimately claimed American lives,” said Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr. “While nothing will ever change the outcome of this horrific event, today’s sentencing is a reminder that the safety of Americans—whether at home or abroad, civilian or otherwise—will always be our top priority. If you commit an act of terrorism, we will find you and bring you to justice.”

Al-Imam was captured in Libya on Oct. 29, 2017, and brought to the United States to face trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  He was found guilty by a jury on June 13, 2019, following a six-week trial, of one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists and one count of maliciously destroying and injuring dwellings and property, and placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. He was sentenced by the Honorable Christopher R. Cooper.

According to the government’s evidence, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, a group of extremists, armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades, and other weapons, swept into the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, setting fires and breaking into buildings.  During that violence, Ambassador Stevens, Mr. Smith, and Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Scott Wickland valiantly tried to protect themselves when the attackers stormed into the Ambassador’s residence, sheltering in a secure area.  However, when the attackers could not gain entry to the secure area, the attackers set fire to the residence.  Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith suffocated from the thick, black smoke that enveloped the residence.  Special Agent Wickland, who tried to guide them to safety, was injured and repeatedly took small arms fire while trying to rescue Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith.

Al-Imam arrived at the Mission shortly after the attack began, accompanying Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the leader of an extremist militia named Ubaydah bin Jarrah and one of the planners of the attack.  During the attack on the Mission, al-Imam maintained contact with Khatallah in a series of cellphone calls, including an 18-minute phone call that took place during the height of the attack.  Members of Ubaydah bin Jarrah, as well as other extremist groups, were caught on surveillance video attacking the Mission.  After the American security personnel withdrew from the Mission, al-Imam, Khatallah, several UBJ members, and other extremists entered the Mission’s office and removed sensitive information, including maps and other documents related to the location of the CIA’s Annex in Benghazi.  

Following the attack at the Mission, in the early hours of Sept. 12, 2012, the violence continued at the CIA Annex, first with gunfire and then with a precision mortar attack.  While defending the Annex, Mr. Woods, Mr. Doherty, DSS Special Agent David Ubben, and CIA security specialist Mark Tiegen were hit by a precision mortar attack, leading to the deaths of Mr. Woods and Mr. Doherty.  Special Agent Ubben and Mr. Tiegen were seriously wounded but survived.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s New York Field Office with substantial assistance from various other government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the two victim agencies, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. The National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section provided significant assistance.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cummings and Karen Seifert of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.  Assistance was provided by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas Coleman and Jolie Zimmerman, Paralegal Specialist Donna Galindo, detailed Paralegal Specialist Ashley Davis, Intelligence Research Special Dustin Powell, contract Document Management Analyst Michael Watts, Victim-Witness Advocates Yvonne Bryant, Tonya Jones, Laverne Perry and Wanda Queen, and Litigation Technology Chief Leif Hickling. Earlier stages of the prosecution were handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Opher Shweiki and Julieanne Himelstein.

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Ops Center Watch Logs From Night of Benghazi – Say, Who Was Running @StateDept?

Posted: 12:24 am EDT
Updated: 10:14 pm EDT
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[N]ewly disclosed documents, obtained by Veterans for a Strong America through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, include 24 pages of watch logs from the State Department operations center recording the logistics of the back-and-forth over the deadly assault in a sterile, just-the-facts manner.

[…]

The watch logs do not show all the calls Clinton made that night, but a State spokesman said many calls are not routed through the operations center. The logs also do not appear to reflect an interagency secure video teleconference in which Clinton took part that evening.

A spokesman for the House Benghazi Committee said the panel had access to other State Department chronologies and call records but received copies of the watch logs only on Friday. That’s a week after they were released to the veterans group on Oct. 30.

Read the logs: Ops Center Watch Logs, Sept 11- 12, 2012.

While the logs may not present the complete chronology of events (if somebody made calls or sent emails outside the Watch, it would not be listed in the logs), this is probably the closest tick tock we could see on what occurred at HQ  on the night Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi.

— At 5:38 p.m. , Sept 11, the Watch patched HRC with CIA Petraeus

— At 7:05 p.m., Sept 11, at the request of HRC, the Watched convened a conference call participated  by D/S Nides, U/S Kennedy (M), U/S Sherman (P), Counselor Mills, S/P Sullivan, PA Nuland, ExecSec Mull, NEA A/S Jones, Tripoli DCM Hicks with HRC

— At 10:27 p.m., Sept 11, the Watch patched President Obama with HRC

— Ambassador Stevens’ death appears to have been reported to the Ops Center at 2:55 a.m. on September 12.

— Secretary Clinton made no visit to the Watch, but called the Watch at 7:15 a.m. with a request, on September 12.

— At 7:31 a.m. the Watch patched WH Chief of Staff Jack Lew to HRC

— At 9:20 a.m., the Watch patched HRC to Embassy Tripoli

— D/S Burns was in Baghdad

— Counselor Mills makes multiple appearances on these logs, more than the Secretary.

— Ambassador T. Pickering makes a couple of appearances.

— Senators Kerry and Graham appears on the logs

— — Except for the mass alert from the Watch directed at multiple bureaus of the State Department, the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell does not appear to make any appearance in these logs. Which is odd considering that DS A/S is apparently the main guy on State Department security. One exception is at 0320 (further to item 0255, concerning the death of Amb. Stevens, the Watch called multiple individuals in State’s top ranks, as well as OBO, FLO, MED, DGHR, PA. The name of the individual called on behalf of Diplomatic Security was REDACTED. There is a separate call where the Watch patched U/S Kennedy and Diplomatic Security’s Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary in charge of international programs.

We do not think that there was a conspiracy not to save our people under attack in Benghazi but we are curious on who was running the State Department as events unfolded in Benghazi.  And why was the main official handling diplomatic security not shown in these logs? Is that indicative of just how little influence diplomatic security professionals actually have in a crisis like this? No? What’s that? Yes, I do know that DS has its own command center.

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U.S. Nabs Ahmed Abu Khatallah, Suspected Key Figure in 2012 Benghazi Attack

— Domani Spero
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Big scoop via WaPo today:

U.S. Special Operations forces captured one of the suspected ringleaders of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi in a secret raid in Libya over the weekend, the first time one of the accused perpetrators of the 2012 assaults has been apprehended, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured Sunday near Benghazi by American troops, working alongside the FBI, following months of planning, and was now in U.S. custody “in a secure location outside Libya.” The officials said there were no casualties in the operation, and that all U.S. personnel involved have safely left Libya.

Read in full: U.S. captures Benghazi suspect in secret raid.

The Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby also released the following statement:

 I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15 the U.S. Military — in cooperation with law enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya. There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

Below is a collection of tweets on Ahmed Abu Khattala, who apparently was not shy about giving interviews to the media in the past year or so:

 

Here is also a Reuters interview from 2012 —  Mystery deepens about US enemy No. 1 in Libya. Yesterday, a day after Khattala was captured,but before it was publicly released, there apparently was an ugly Benghazi panel over in D.C. WaPo’s Dana Milbank reports about that here. Politico wades in, also the Daily Beast here.

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Senate Report on Benghazi: Nothing Surprising, Spreading the Blame, Notable Details

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— Domani Spero

Yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released its Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September11-12, 2012 together with Additional Views.  You may read it here. The Armed Services Committee also released six files from the declassified transcripts of the Benghazi briefings here.

The report notes that between 1998 (the year of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) and 2012, 273 significant attacks were carried out against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel. In the course of its investigation, SSCI conducted on-the record Member and staff meetings with officials already named previously in news reports and with  the unnamed former CIA Chief of Base in Benghazi who was at the Annex on the night of the attacks and U.S. Government security personnel on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attacks.

Nothing in the findings or recommendations of the Committee was particularly surprising.  The report spreads the blame around not just on the State Department, Defense, the intel community, but also the late Ambassador Stevens for declining twice additional security offered by AFRCOM’s General Carter Ham.   But there are some notable details that we have not seen before:

More specificity about the team that flew to Benghazi:

A seven-person security team (consisting of two DoD personnel, four CIA personnel, and a linguist) flew from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli to Benghazi and successfully helped evacuate the Americans from the Annex to the airport. It is important to clarify that, at the time of the attacks in Benghazi, there were six DoD personnel assigned to Embassy Tripoli. Four employees were under Special Operations Command Africa (SOC-AFRICA) and reported through a similar, but separate, chain of command within AFRICOM. The other two individuals from that team were DoD personnel working (based on a memorandum of understanding) under a separate special operations task force. According to the DoD, the four staff under SOC.,.AFRICA were told by their command to stay to protect Embassy Tripoli due to concerns of a similar attack in Tripoli.

What about State’s Intel Bureau?

Based on the Committee’s review, the State Department’s INR disseminated no intelligence products related to the Benghazi attacks in the year following the attacks. Considering the attacks began on a State Department facility, involved the deaths of two State Department personnel, and were an important indication of escalating threats against U.S. facilities and personnel in the region, the Committee fmds it unsettling that INR chose not to, or was unable to, disseminate any analysis related to the attacks or the implications of the attacks.
[…]
Yet, INR officials have access to State Department information and perspectives that many in the Intelligence Community do not; therefore, INR should play a more active–not just a coordinating-role in analysis for the IC and not just the State Department. The State Department’s Inspector General went even further and found that INR should be the office to produce a comprehensive security assessment for each post based on all available diplomatic and intelligence sources.

Individuals Supporting the Investigation, Killed?

The Libyan Government has not shown the political incentive or will within its own country to seek out, arrest, and prosecute individuals believed to be associated with the attacks. Furthermore, the security environment in Benghazi remains extremely dangerous for individuals wishing to work with the U.S. Government on its investigation into the attacks. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller noted that as many as 15 individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks, underscoring the lawless and chaotic circumstances in eastern Libya. It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.

Interesting Footnotes!

#18| SSCI Transcript, Hearing on Security Issues at Benghazi and Threats to U.S. Intelligence and Diplomatic Personne/.and Facilities Worldwide Since the Attacks, December 4; 2012, p. 67. However, on page 47 of its classified report, the ARB concluded: “While none of the five DS agents discharged their weapons, the Board concluded that this was a sound tactical decision, given the overwhelming degree to which they were outgunned and outnumbered: A decision to discharge their weapons may well have resulted in more American deaths that night, without saving lives. The multiple trips that DS agents and Annex security team members made into a burning, smoke-filled building showed readiness to risk life and limb to save.“

#65 | The Committee recognizes that there were communications between State Department employees in Libya regarding security during this time period, including an August 22, 2012, document entitled, “Security Requests for U.S. Mission Benghazi” that was sent from OS agents in Benghazi to the RSO in Tripoli that included specific requests for (I) physical security, (2) equipment, and (3) manpower. There is no indication those requests were passed on to State Department Headquarters in the form of a cable.

#68 | An August 28, 2012, memo entitled, “Regional Security Officer Turnover” from the outgoing RSO stated: “U.S.Mission Benghazi has an uncertain future; Post is scheduled to close December 31,2012. Various alternatives are being proposed, including colocating with the Annex. The RSO should be aware that requests for expensive security upgrades may be difficult to obtain as headquarters is hesitant to allocate money to a post that may be closing in a few months.” Classified Report of the ARB, December 18,2012, Appendix 6, p. I.

Wondering why it was necessary to classify #18 and #68 from the publicly available ARB Report? Do you know?

The Senate report in 85 pages long.  The report itself is 42 pages long with its findings and recommendations. The report includes three appendices; as well, there are “Additional Views” attached to the report:  a 5-page one from the Democrats on the SSIC (Senators Feinstein, Rockefeller IV, Wyden, Mikulski, Udall, Warner, Heinrich and Maine Senator Angus King);  a 16-page one from the GOP members of the Committee namely, Vice-Chairman Chambliss and Senators Burr, Risch, Coats, Rubio and Coburn and a 4-page statement by Maine Senator Susan Collins who co-authored with then Senator Joe Lieberman the HSGAC 2012 report, “Flashing Red: A Special Report on the Terrorist Attack at Benghazi.

So, basically, what they could not agree to put in the body of the report, the SSIC members placed as attachments to their bipartisan work. We expect that the morning shows on Sunday will be populated with politicians talking about their “additional views” on the report.

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Email of the Day: “I hope that nobody is injured …”

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— Domani Spero

Via SSCI Benghazi Report (p74 of 85) |

According to Mr. Nordstrom, the previous U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, and his Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Joan Polaschik, traveled to Washington in mid-February 2012 to specifically ask for additional security personnel. 155 in addition to meeting with Ms. Lamb, they met separately with Mr. Kennedy and other senior officials. Yet, when the Libyan mission transmitted its official request for additional security personnel on March 28, 2012, the push back from Ms. Lamb’s office was swift and significant. While the request, which included five temporary duty Diplomatic Security agents in Benghazi, was clearly reasonable, one of Ms. Lamb’s subordinates asked Mr. Nordstrom why the official cable sought “the sun, the moon, and the stars.” When Mr. Nordstrom stated that he did not understand why this was an issue, the response from Ms. Lamb’s office Was telling: “Well, you know, this is a political game. You have to not make us look bad here, that we’re not being responsive.” 156 in a disturbingly prophetic e-mail to DCM Polaschik following this exchange, Mr. Nordstrom wrote:

I doubt we will ever get [Diplomatic Security] to admit in writing what I was told [in] reference [to] Benghazi that OV[International Programs] was directed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb to cap the agents in Benghazi at 3, and force post to hire local drivers. This is apparently a verbal policy only but one which DSIIP/[Near Eastern Affairs] doesn’t plan to violate. I hope that nobody is injured as a result of an incident in Benghazi, since it would be particularly embarrassing to both DS and DAS [Lamb] if it was a result of some sort of game they are playing.

Mr. Eric Nordstrom - Regional Security Officer, U.S. Department of State (second from left on the full witness panel) "The Security Failures of Benghazi" House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing, 10-10-12 (Photo via Oversight and Reform Committee/Flickr)

Eric Nordstrom – Regional Security Officer, U.S. Department of State (second from left on the full witness panel)
(Photo via Oversight and Reform Committee/Flickr)

Foreign Policy writes that the SSCI findings are “a case study in how no one and everyone in the State Department, the U.S. intelligence community, and the White House has been held responsible for an attack that has fueled a political firestorm in Washington — and left four Americans dead.”

No one and everyone.

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Congress Serves Three Benghazi Events This Week – Tickets Running Out!

— By Domani Spero

This week, Congress will have three events focused on Benghazi, two State Department related hearings and one on-the-record interviews with a couple of spooks or OGA folks.

The week started off with the release of the House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi Attacks: Investigative Update Interim Report on the Accountability Review Board (See Read and Weep: Congressional Committee Releases Report Questioning Benghazi ARB Investigation).  An excellent primer on people just doing their jobs.  The 99-page report is worth reading if you work inside the building. Similarly, the Pickering and Mullen transcripts (see links below) are a must-read, too.

On Wednesday, September 18, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will hold the following hearing with State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy:

Hearing: Benghazi: Where is the State Department Accountability?
2172 House Rayburn Office Building Washington, DC 20515 |
Sep 18, 2013 10:00am

Several days ago, the Best Practices Sullivan Report leaked to AJAM was quite blunt.  The item was followed by AJAM’s Patrick F. Kennedy: The man in the middle. The Project for Government Oversight (POGO) a few days ago also has the following headlines: State Department Gives Misleading Testimony to Senate and Benghazi Ignored: New Evidence Exposes Gaps in Kabul Embassy.  And now, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight wants answers.  This will be a rough week for some folks but we can almost imagine how this will play out.

On September 19, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on “Reviews” of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions.  No witnesses have been identified on the OGRC website but word has it that Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen will be two of the witnesses during Thursday’s hearing. Perhaps in preparation for that hearing, the Oversight Committee has posted the full transcripts of the interviews with ARB co-chairs Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen.

Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
September 19, 2013 | 9:30 a.m.

Transcript of interview with Admiral Michael G. Mullen

Transcript of deposition of Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering

Previously announced on September 11, but we understand happening this week, the  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will also conduct an on-the-record interview with two Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who were on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 later this month.

HPSCI Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Announces Benghazi Oversight Agenda

Whew! Are you ready?

Updated 9/18 – 7:30 am: We missed this one, not directly related to Benghazi, but one that came about in the aftermath of Benghazi.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 19 will also have a hearing on the nomination of Gregory Starr to be Ambassador Eric Boswell’s successor as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security.

Mr. Gregory B. Starr
of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

Thursday, September 19, 2013 | 10:00 AM | Senate Hart 216

Updated 9/18 at 10:13 am PST: Oops, what’s this? Former and current colleagues are talking to John Hudson of The Cable about Mr. Starr.  Allegations Swirl Around Obama’s Pick for State Department Security Chief.  State Department Chief of Staff David Wade waded in and added his support to the nominee. “Anyone smearing a distinguished public servant should have the guts to do it on the record instead of seeking cowardly refuge in anonymous quotes.”

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