U.S. officials this evening told Associated Press that special operations forces have captured a militant identified as Mustafa al-Imam who was described as “instrumental” in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
According to the same source, he was captured in Misrata and subsequently taken to a U.S. Navy ship at the city’s port that has taken him to the U.S. where he is expected to face trial. Non-official Libyan sources said that al-Imam is from Darnah, while others said he is not Libyan.
Libyan media reports said al-Imam is a Palestinian national who was based in Benghazi’s Laithi district until February 2016 when he fled to Misrata following Laithi’s fall to the Libyan National Army. Same sources claimed that he was arrested by the Gaddafi regime in 2007 and spent a year in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison for his alleged affiliation with al-Qaeda.
CNN quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying that al-Imam may have operated under different aliases, adding that the U.S. government has video showing him present at one of the two sites of the attack in which four Americans were killed in 2012.
The operation took place yesterday, according to statement by the U.S. President Donald Trump. “Yesterday, on my orders, United States forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya. Because of this successful operation, al-Imam will face justice in the United States for his alleged role in the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods—four brave Americans who were serving our country,” Mr Trump said in the statement.
It was understood that the operation was conducted in conjunction with forces from Misrata affiliated with Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord. The two sides have been coordinating closely on anti-ISIS operations since August 2016 when the U.S. Africa Command provided aircover to ground forces from Misrata which resulted in driving the Islamic State out of Sirte in last December.
President Trump said his government will continue to support “our Libyan partners to ensure that ISIS and other terrorist groups do not use Libya as a safe haven for attacks against United States citizens or interests, Libyans, and others”. And he added: “Libya’s long-term stability and security are linked to its ability to form a unified government and military, and we encourage all Libyans to support the ongoing reconciliation process facilitated by the United Nations and to work together to build a peaceful and stable country”.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, Ansar al-Sharia’s former emir and alleged mastermind of the attack, went on trial in Washington earlier this month. In October 2014, the F.B.I released the photos below of persons of interest and asked the public to provide more information about them.