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Suspect in Benghazi attack ordered held until trial

An artist's rendering shows  Judge John Facciola swearing in  defendant Ahmed Abu Khatallah at a hearing on June 28.

Dana Verkouteren/AP

An artist's rendering shows Judge John Facciola swearing in defendant Ahmed Abu Khatallah at a hearing on June 28.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Libyan militia leader charged in connection with the 2012 killing of the U.S. ambassador and three others in Benghazi must remain in government custody and be held without bond.

In her ruling, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson sided with the Justice Department, which argued that the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, should be held until he faced trial because he continued to pose a threat.

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The Justice Department contends that he has extremist views and has plotted attacks against the United States and Western interests in recent months.

A lawyer for Abu Khattala, Michelle Peterson, did not contest the detention. But Peterson used the hearing as a forum to attack the government’s case, contending that it had not been able to back up the claims it had made in court about Abu Khattala’s involvement in the attacks.

Given “the utter lack of evidence,” Peterson said, “it’s incredibly difficult to defend Khattala.” There was “no suggestion” in the information released by the government that he was involved in the attacks, she said.

A federal prosecutor, Michael DiLorenzo, said that the government had given “critical” video clips to Peterson on Wednesday.

Peterson also took on the government’s contention that Abu Khattala posed a threat to the United States because he had a loaded gun on him at the time he was apprehended by U.S. commandos in Libya a little more than two weeks ago.

The place where Abu Khattala lived in eastern Libya, Peterson said, is dangerous, and it is “not unusual to be armed” there.

Abu Khattala had spent “a decade” fighting the government of Moammar Gadhafi and led a group that opposed him — a cause the United States had supported, she said.

In documents filed Tuesday and in statements in court Wednesday, the Justice Department laid out several reasons Abu Khattala should be detained.

Prosecutors described Abu Khattala as “a commander in an extremist militia group who is fully committed to causing death and destruction to American personnel and property.” They said that if he were set free, he would be motivated to flee because he has few ties to people in the United States.

Abu Khattala, they said, has “extensive contacts with senior-level members of extremist groups throughout Libya” and “could communicate and further conspire with many of those extremist individuals.”

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