By Sarah N. Lynch

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors opened their case against Ahmed Abu Khatallah on Monday by telling jurors he orchestrated the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Khatallah has been awaiting trial since 2014, when he was captured by a team of U.S. military and FBI officials in Libya and transported on a 13-day journey to the United States aboard a Navy vessel.

Prior to his capture, he was part of a revolutionary militia group aimed at overthrowing the Gaddafi regime.


In his opening statement, federal prosecutor John Crabb said Khatallah hates America "with a vengeance" and played a leading role in organizing the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

Khatallah "didn't do the killing by himself," he said. "He didn't light the fires and he didn't fire the mortars but you will hear he is just as guilty as the men who lit those fires and the men who fired those mortars."

The Benghazi attack led to a political fire storm in Washington, where Republicans repeatedly accused then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of failing to adequately protect the diplomatic compound. That debate stretched on for years and continued throughout the 2016 presidential election while Clinton was running unsuccessfully for president against Donald Trump.

Monday's trial represents a high-profile test in the use of a federal court to try a foreign terrorism suspect, as opposed to holding him at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he would face military legal proceedings.

While Khatallah was being transported by a Navy ship from Libya to the United States, he was questioned by U.S. intelligence officials before he was read his Miranda rights and questioned by FBI agents.

He waived his rights to remain silent and have a lawyer present before speaking with the agents. His attorneys had sought to suppress the statements, saying the government had violated his rights.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper issued a lengthy ruling in August that found his statements could be admitted at trial.

Crabb alluded to prior statements by Khatallah, telling the jury the defendant had said: "I didn't do all of that by myself."

The charges against Khatallah include murder and providing material support to terrorists.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Trott)

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