U.S. forces capture key militant in 2012 Benghazi attacks

U.S. officials say special operations forces have captured a militant who was instrumental in the attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the death of the American ambassador to the country.

The attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound killed ambassador in Libya and 3 other Americans

Chris Stevens, shown in a 2011 file photo, served as the U.S. Ambassador to Libya from May 2012 to September 2012. He was one of four people killed when the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by militants on Sept. 11, 2012. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

U.S. special operations forces have captured a militant who was instrumental in the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, officials said Monday.

The attack resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to the country and three other Americans. The Obama administration's handling of the deadly assault became a lightning rod for Republican criticism of Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, throughout her presidential campaign.

Commandos captured the man in Libya just before midnight local time on Sunday and are transporting him back to the U.S., the officials said. The suspect is in the custody of the Department of Justice and is expected to arrive within the next two days on a military plane.

U.S. President Donald Trump named the suspect, Mustafa al-Imam, in a statement.

The officials said the mission was approved by Trump and done in co-ordination with Libya's internationally recognized government.

The trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala, shown above in a 2014 court sketch, began earlier this month. He is an alleged Libyan militant accused of being the mastermind of the 2012 Benghazi attack. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

The Sept. 11, 2012, assault killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, State Department information management officer Sean Smith and contract security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

The assault started in the evening when armed attackers scaled the wall of a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and moved through the front gate. Libyan civilians found Smith and Stevens hours later in the wreckage. Stevens died of smoke inhalation in the hospital, becoming the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty in more than three decades.

Woods and Doherty died nearly eight hours later in a mortar attack on a nearby CIA complex. 

Another accused pleaded not guilty

Earlier this month, another man accused in the attack, Abu Khattala, went on trial in Federal Court in Washington. Khattala has pleaded not guilty to the 18 charges against him, including murder of an internationally protected person, providing material support to terrorists and destroying U.S. property while causing death.

The attack became fodder for multiple congressional investigations to determine what happened and whether the Obama administration misled the public on the details of the bloody assault. Initial accounts provided by administration officials, notably former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, said the attack had grown out of a protest against an anti-Muslim internet film. Later, the administration said it was a planned terrorist attack.

A two-year investigation by a House Benghazi committee focused heavily on Clinton's role and whether security at the compounds and the response to the attack was sufficient. It was the Benghazi probe that revealed Clinton used a private email server for government work, prompting an FBI investigation that proved to be an albatross in her presidential campaign.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday the U.S. will "spare no effort to ensure that justice is served" to the militants who committed the attack.

With files from Reuters