Ahmed Abu Khattala is now on a U.S. Navy ship bound for the United States. He’ll face charges of masterminding the assault on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. Four Americans died in that attack. The Obama administration blamed it on a YouTube video.
Khattala was not, according to CNN’s Arwa Damon, a man in hiding during the nearly two years that the U.S. said it sought to arrest him. Damon met and interviewed Khattala in a Benghazi cafe in 2013.
In that interview, Khattala admitted that he was on the scene during the attack, but that he arrived after the assault was already underway.
Khattala told Damon that the U.S. investigators “did not even try to contact me” after the attack.
As for the motivations behind the Benghazi attack, in the CNN interview Khattala criticized the United States for “using al Qaeda as a boogey man whenever it suits them.” He added that “Al Qaeda is not something to be ashamed of. Al Qaeda is people who are devout, protecting their religion and their people. America is the terrorist,” he said.
During the CNN interview, Khattala never mentioned the YouTube video that the Obama administration blamed for the attack.
In an interview with the New York Times that was published October 18, 2012, Khattala was already hiding in plain sight. The Times’ David Kirkpatrick met up with Khattala in a cafe in Benghazi. This was the earliest known interview Khattala gave after the Benghazi attack, given just five weeks afterward. He told Kirkpatrick that no U.S. investigators had questioned him. Consistent with the CNN interview, Khattala admitted admiration for al Qaeda. He accused the U.S. of “imposing its ideology” on everyone else.
Khattala claimed that the assault grew out of a “peaceful protest” in reaction to the video that the Obama administration blamed for the attack.
Mr. Abu Khattala, 41, wearing a red fez and sandals, added his own spin. Contradicting the accounts of many witnesses and the most recent account of the Obama administration, he contended that the attack had grown out of a peaceful protest against a video made in the United States that mocked the Prophet Muhammad and Islam.
By that time, even the Obama administration had stopped claiming that the YouTube video had sparked the assault. As Obama administration officials knew, reports from Libya by U.S. personnel indicated that the attack was a pre-planned, coordinated strike. U.S. spy agencies even heard the attackers using phones they had stolen during the attack to call their superiors to deliver ongoing progress reports. Those weren’t the only calls going back to headquarters during the attack. The CIA officers on the ground called their superiors three times to request aid, and were denied.