TRIPOLI: U.S. commandos violated Libya’s sovereignty when they seized the suspected ringleader of a deadly 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
Special forces carried out Sunday’s stealth operation under cover of night, capturing Ahmad Abu Khatallah near Benghazi and spiriting him out of the country.
“The government condemns this regrettable infringement on Libya’s sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Lassoued said in a statement, adding that Tripoli had not been informed in advance.
In announcing the operation, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby would not say whether Washington gave Libya advance notice.
Also Wednesday, Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said there was already an outstanding arrest warrant for Abu Khatallah. But he said Libyan security forces had not been able to arrest him because of the security situation in Benghazi.
Lassoued underlined in his statement “Libya’s right to judge Abu Khatallah on its soil in conformity with its law, and asks the American government to return him to Libya.”
Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed when gunmen stormed the U.S. Consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, and set it on fire. A CIA outpost was also targeted.
A month later Abu Khatallah told AFP he was not responsible for the attack, but admitted he had been at the consulate on the day of the attack, taking part in a demonstration to protest an anti-Islamist video that was posted on YouTube.
U.S. federal prosecutors have charged Abu Khatallah with murder, carrying a weapon and offering material support to “terrorism,” according to an indictment. The first charge potentially carries the death penalty.
The charges reflect accounts from Libyan officials and witnesses who have singled out him as allegedly taking part in the assault that day.
He was jailed under the former regime of Moammar Gadhafi in the early 1990s for his alleged involvement in Islamist organizations.