PITTSBURGH — President Barack Obama lauded the “incredible courage” of the special forces that captured a suspected architect of the 2012 Benghazi attack, saying that their actions sent a message to the world on American resolve in the face of terror.
At his appearance in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Obama confirmed earlier reports on the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is accused of playing a key role in the fatal 2012 attack on a diplomatic compound that has been the focus of a cascade of controversy in his re-election campaign and throughout his second term
Obama prefaced an appearance at Bakery Square with a reminder of the attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“I said at the time, that my absolute commitment was to make sure that we brought to justice those who were responsible, and yesterday, our special forces, showing incredible courage and precision, were able to capture an individual, Abu Khattala, who ... is alleged to have been one of the masterminds of the attack.”
With that, the audience, gathered for an economic development forum, broke into applause. The reaction on Capitol Hill was also generally, if sometimes grudgingly, positive, despite the months of GOP criticism of the administration’s actions surrounding the attack. House Speaker John Boehner praised the military and the FBI for their work on the capture.
“I look forward to hearing more details regarding the raid, and I expect the administration to give our military professionals time to properly gather any useful intelligence he has,” said Boehner, R-Ohio.
He referred to the administration’s announcement that the suspect would be brought to the United States and tried in criminal court.
A White House official said the president would meet with congressional leaders, including Boehner, Wednesday to discuss a range of foreign policy issues, also including Iraq.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, praised the military’s execution of the capture but questioned its timing.
“This individual has made himself available to multiple media outlets in the 19 months since the deaths of four Americans, including the first U.S. ambassador killed in an attack since 1979,” he said in a statement issued by his office. “I hope this capture brings us closer to justice and accountability.”
He referred to interviews, including one with The Associated Press last August, in which the suspect denied that he was in hiding and disavowed any role in the attack on the Benghazi compound.
Obama told the Pittsburgh audience that the suspected terrorist was being brought back to the United States. Unidentified administration officials told The Washington Post, which first reported the capture, that Abu Khattala had been apprehended without U.S. casualties and was being held “in a secure location outside Libya.”
Obama said that the development sends “a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice, and that’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you.”
“And I want to make sure that everybody around the world hears that message very clearly, because my first and most solemn duty as president and commander-in-chief, is to keep the American people safe,” he said.
Citing dangers faced by American diplomats serving around the world, he added, “They need to know that this country has their back and will always go after anybody who goes after us.”
Earlier, on the flight from Washington, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told the press pool traveling with the president: “We have made it clear since that cowardly attack on our facilities that we would go to any lengths to find, apprehend and bring to justice those who perpetrated (the attack) and were responsible for the deaths of four Americans. The capture of Abu Khattala is not the end of that effort, but it marks an important milestone.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. told The Associated Press that the military should be granted an extended period of time to interrogate Abu Khattala.
“We should have some quality time with this guy — weeks and months — don’t torture him, have some quality time,” he said.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that civilian courts were competent to handle the case as they had with hundreds of terror suspects since 9/11.