No death penalty for Benghazi suspect?

Federal officials announce Justice Department will not seek the death penalty against Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala.

Ben Ariel,

Aftermath of Benghazi attack
Aftermath of Benghazi attack

The United States Justice Department will not seek the death penalty against Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Libyan man charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, federal officials announced Tuesday, according to AP.

The department revealed its decision, which pushes the case forward toward trial, in a brief court filing that offered no additional explanation.

Abu Khattala, a leader of the terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia, was captured by American forces in Libya in June of 2014, and has previously denied any connection to the Benghazi attack.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, spokeswoman Emily Pierce said Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the decision not to seek the death penalty against Abu Khattala after reviewing the case and consulting with federal prosecutors.

She said the department is "committed to ensuring that the defendant is held accountable" for the 2012 attacks.

Abu Khattala's attorneys, who have challenged the strength of the government's evidence, had implored the Justice Department to remove the death penalty as a possibility should he ultimately be convicted of any capital crimes at trial. With that punishment now off the table, he would face a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty, according to AP.

"It was a decision that was the correct decision, but was also a courageous decision - so we're pleased," one of his attorneys, Eric Lewis, told the news agency.

Abu Khattala has been awaiting trial in federal court in Washington in connection with the September 2012 violence at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Prosecutors have described him as a ringleader of the attacks, which quickly emerged as a political flashpoint and became the topic of congressional hearings involving Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time of the rampage.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in the first attack at the U.S. mission, along with Sean Patrick Smith, a State Department information management officer. Nearly eight hours later at a CIA complex nearby, two more Americans, contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, died in a mortar attack.

Abu Khattala has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder of an internationally protected person, providing material support to terrorists and destroying U.S. property while causing death.