United States commandos have captured the suspected leader of the 2012 attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, White House and Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
Apprehension of the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, is a major breakthrough in the two-and-a-half-year-old investigation into the attack, which also killed three other Americans, just two months before the presidential election in the United States. President Obama vowed swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice, but efforts to identify and prosecute the attackers were stymied by the chaos of the event and the broader mayhem in Libya.
Mr. Obama’s handling of the attack and the aftermath became a lightning rod for Republican critics. They accused him of misleading Americans about the circumstances behind it for his own political purposes and of failing to aggressively pursue those responsible — accusations that Mr. Obama and his defenders have strenuously denied.
Seen as an eccentric extremist even by his ultra conservative Islamist neighbors, he was wanted by the United States as a prime suspect in the Benghazi attack.
Officials briefed on the investigation have said for more than a year that a plan to capture Mr. Abu Khattala was on Mr. Obama’s desk awaiting approval. But the administration held back, in part for fear that an American raid to retrieve him might further destabilize the already tenuous Libyan government.
Diplomats also suggested that the United States investigators might have been struggling to produce sufficient witness testimony and other evidence to convict Mr. Abu Khattala of responsibility for the deaths in an American court.
In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the Benghazi attack, Mr. Abu Khattala scoffed at the American effort to hold him accountable — another reflection of the atmosphere of lawlessness that pervaded Libya after the overthrow and death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the country’s longtime autocrat, in October 2011.
The execution of the raid, which was first reported by The Washington Post, appears to signal that the investigators are confident in their case, and it may also reflect an acceptance that Libya is unlikely to become a stable partner in the pursuit of the culprits any time soon.Indeed, a renegade general based in Benghazi is currently waging a low-grade military campaign against local Islamist militants like Mr. Abu Khattala, and the United States may have sought to arrest the suspect before the general, Khalifa Heftar, killed him in the fighting there.


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