Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ahmed Abu Khatallah Found Guilty of Terrorism Charges in September 2012 Attack in Benghazi, Libya

Defendant faces possible life sentence

Ahmed Abu Khatallah, aka Ahmed Mukatallah, 46, a Libyan national, was found guilty by a jury today 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.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu for the District of Columbia, Assistant Director Grant Mendenhall of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office made the announcement.

“Ahmed Abu Khatallah's arrest and prosecution were critical steps in our efforts to identify and hold accountable those who were responsible for the terrorist attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, Libya.  Our work is not done.  We will not rest in our pursuit of the others who attacked our facilities and killed the four courageous Americans who perished that day,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente.

“The jury has now held Ahmed Abu Khatallah accountable for his role in the terrorist attack that destroyed the U.S. Mission in Benghazi,” said U.S. Attorney Liu.  “During that attack and the one that followed, four American heroes lost their lives and others were seriously wounded. We will never rest in our efforts to bring to justice those who commit terrorism abroad.”

“Ahmed Abu Khatallah is being held responsible for executing a brazen terrorist attack against the United States.  That attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.  This investigation demonstrates the FBI's ability to investigate terrorist attacks against Americans even in the most difficult conditions, determine who perpetrated the acts and bring those actors to justice,” said Assistant Director Mendenhall.  “We remain dedicated to the pursuit of justice in this case and others around the world where Americans and our allies have been victimized.”

“Ahmed Abu Khatallah was convicted for his integral role in a calculated, cold-blooded attack on a U.S. diplomatic location in Benghazi,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney.  “Our hope is Khatallah's conviction will provide some measure of justice for the honorable and heroic American victims and their families.  Our work will continue, but today's verdict serves as a reminder to those who plot terror attacks against the United States – the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force's reach is global.  Working together with our partners in the intelligence community and law enforcement, our commitment to investigating acts of terrorism, capturing those responsible and ensuring justice is served will never waver.  I would like to express our appreciation for the many investigators, analysts and operators from many agencies who played a role in ensuring justice was achieved today.”

Khatallah was captured in Libya on June 15, 2014, and brought to the United States to face trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  The jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists, one count of providing material support or resources to terrorists, 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, and one count of using and carrying a semiautomatic weapon during a crime of violence.  He was acquitted of the remaining counts against him.

The trial began Oct. 2, before a jury in the courtroom of the Honorable Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Over the next six weeks, the government presented testimony from 30 witnesses, including four from Libya. The witnesses included those who were wounded in the attack, as well as relatives of the people who died.  The government’s witnesses also included others who survived the attacks.

According to the government’s evidence, Khatallah was a leader of an extremist militia named Ubaydah bin Jarrah, which operated outside the law, and in the months prior to the attacks, he sought to incite violence by his and other militia groups against the presence of the United States in Libya.  In early September of 2012, he and other members of his group mobilized for an attack by stockpiling truckloads of weaponry.

On the night of Sept. 11, 2012, according to the government’s evidence, Khatallah directed his group to carry out the violence, striking first at the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi.  A group of men, armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades, and other weapons, swept into the Mission compound, setting fires and breaking into buildings.  During that violence, Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith valiantly tried to protect themselves when the attackers stormed into a villa, but they were fatally overcome by thick, black smoke when the attackers set a fire.  A State Department employee, who tried to guide them to safety, was injured.

Before, during and after the attack, Khatallah maintained contact with his group in a series of cellphone calls.  Also, according to the government’s evidence, for much of the attack, he positioned himself on the perimeter of the compound and kept others, including emergency responders, from getting to the scene.  The government’s evidence also showed that Khatallah made calls to leaders of other militia groups warning them not to interfere with the attack.

Following the attack at the mission, in the early hours of Sept. 12, 2012, the violence continued at a nearby CIA annex, first with gunfire and then with a precision mortar attack.  Mr. Woods and Mr. Doherty died in the mortar attack, and a State Department employee and U.S. government security specialist were seriously wounded.

Khatallah faces statutory maximums of 15 years in prison on each of the two terrorism offenses, 20 years for maliciously damaging and destroying dwellings and property, and life imprisonment for the firearms offense.  The firearms offense also carries a mandatory minimum consecutive term of 10 years.  A sentencing date has not yet been set.

The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case was investigated by the FBI New York Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force with substantial assistance from various other government agencies, including the two victim agencies, the CIA and the Department of State.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Crabb, Jr., Michael C. DiLorenzo, Julieanne Himelstein and Opher Shweiki, all of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.  Assistance was provided by Trial Attorney C. Alexandria Bogle of the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Kohl and David Mudd of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Assistance also was provided by Victim/Witness Advocate Yvonne Bryant and Paralegal Specialists Rayneisha Booth, Jessica Moffatt and Legal Assistant Matthew Ruggiero, all of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

South Asia Strategy Provides 'Path to Win' in Afghanistan, Commander Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2017 — The new permissions available thanks to the South Asia strategy mean the campaign is on the "path to a win," the commander of NATO's Resolute Support mission and U.S. forces in Afghanistan told Pentagon reporters today.

President Donald J. Trump announced the strategy during a speech at Fort Myer, Virginia, in August.

Speaking via satellite from his headquarters in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson emphasized that the strategy is strictly conditions-based, not time-based.

"We will be here until the job is done," the general said. "The U.S. approach aligns with the NATO approach. … War is a contest of wills. The president has left no doubt in terms of our will to win."

Goal: Negotiated Reconciliation

In Afghanistan, the goal is reconciliation through a negotiated settlement lowering the level of violence, Nicholson said.  Afghanistan and the coalition will use three forms of pressure to make this happen, he added: military pressure, diplomatic pressure and social pressure.

Afghan security forces will apply the military pressure, the general told reporters, aided by coalition advisors and air assets. That pressure will increase in the next year as new Afghan capabilities come on line and as U.S. and coalition advisers embed with smaller units, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, Afghan and coalition officials will apply diplomatic pressure on the enablers of the Taliban and the Haqqani networks, and social pressure will be applied through elections over the next two years. If done credibly, Nicholson said, these pressures will enhance the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the people.

"In the face of this pressure, the Taliban cannot win," Nicholson said. "Their choices are to reconcile, live in irrelevance, or die."

The United States and coalition must realign resources and to execute this strategy, the general said. "I'd point out that the military effort is necessary but, by itself, not sufficient for success," he said. "We must work together with all of the parts of the U.S. government and the coalition in order to be successful."

Striking Taliban Revenue Stream

Operations under the new permissions have already begun, as Afghan and coalition forces struck the source of the Taliban's finances: the narcotics trade.

"In just over three days' worth of operations, the Afghan 215th Corps, their special forces commandos, their air force, in close cooperation with U.S. forces, removed between $7 million and $10 million of revenue from the Taliban's pocketbook," Nicholson said. "And the overall cost to the drug trafficking organizations approached $48 million. So these strikes were just the first step in attacking the Taliban's financial engine, and they will continue."

Nicholson said the Taliban have evolved into a criminal or narco-insurgency. "They are fighting to defend their revenue streams," he said. "They have increasingly lost whatever ideological anchor they once had. They fight to preserve and expand their sources of revenue. This includes narcotics trafficking, illegal mining, taxing people throughout Afghanistan, kidnapping and murder for hire: all criminal endeavors."

The general noted that Afghan forces have stepped up. "We fought most of this year, through Aug. 21, at the lowest level of U.S. force and capability, and, therefore, the highest level of risk, in our 16-year war in Afghanistan," he said. "Yet, in spite of that, the Taliban strategy was not successful. It was essentially defeated by the Afghans."

In face of this, the Taliban have reverted to guerilla war, while Afghan forces have become more capable. Nicholson noted that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani often says the Afghans own the fight, and are proud to. "They are willing to fight and die for their future, their country, their families," the general added. "And in so doing, they're not only fighting on behalf of themselves, but they are fighting against the terrorists who have threatened our homeland and the homelands of our allies as well."

Monday, November 27, 2017

Attack in Egypt Highlights Need for U.S. Involvement in Region, Official Says

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 27, 2017 — The Nov. 24 attack on an Egyptian mosque in northern Sinai that killed at least 305 men, women and children is an example of why the United States must remain involved in the Middle East, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said today.

The United States must help partner nations build their own defense and police capacity to “ensure [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], al-Qaida and like-minded groups cannot plan and carry out attacks,” he said.

Manning gave an overview of the area during his weekly press gaggle with Pentagon reporters. He said there are roughly 500 U.S. forces in Syria and around 5,000 in Iraq. Defense Department officials are working on providing a better run-down of U.S. forces in the countries as security considerations permit, the colonel said.

Iraqi forces are working to improve security in areas they have retaken from ISIS control, Manning said. This includes going into areas to clear them of improvised explosive devices, clearing out weapons caches, disarm booby traps and rooting out ISIS hold-outs.

“In Syria, in the last 24 hours, the [Syrian Democratic Forces] has reinforced positions near the Iraq-Syria border, repelling an ISIS reconnaissance element,” he said.

Coalition forces aided the SDF as it advanced along the southern bank of the Euphrates River. “Also coalition forces provided counter-IED training to Raqqa internal security force soldiers,” he said. The coalition also passed over communications gear to Raqqa force personnel.

Over the weekend, President Donald J. Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and discussed the U.S. supply of arms to the SDF. Turkish leaders are worried that arms supplied to the Kurdish portion of the SDF could end up in the hands of the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] -- a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

“Consistent with that policy, we’re reviewing pending adjustments to the military support provided to our Kurdish partners [in the SDF], in as much as the military requirements of our defeat-ISIS and stabilization efforts will allow us to prevent ISIS from returning,” Manning said. “We remain very clear in that we are going to continue to target ISIS and remain committed to protecting our NATO ally Turkey.”

Weapons provided to the SDF are limited and mission specific, the colonel said.