The capture of Benghazi mastermind, Ahmed abu Khattala, by an elite Delta Force team was modeled on the Osama bin Laden raid, took almost one year of planning and was completed without one shot being fired.
According to those with knowledge of the mission conducted under cover of dark on Sunday to apprehend the Libyan warlord and bring him to America to potentially face the death penalty – planning began in earnest in August.
Two dozen Delta Force commandos and two or three FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents arrived just after midnight at the Benghazi home of Khattala and using subterfuge grabbed him and bundled him into a vehicle and drove off into the night according to officials.
Observed by two drones flying overhead, the Delta Force team reportedly tricked their way into Khattala’s headquarters on Sunday and he is currently being held aboard the USS New York – which was built using steel from the World Trade Center destroyed in September, 2001.
According to The Daily Beast, the elite Delta Force team has been practicing the dramatic extraction of Khattala using a mock-up of his Benghazi home at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina.
This is almost identical to the preparation for the May, 2011, raid that killed Osama bin Laden, that used a like-for-like recreation of the al-Qaeda chief’s Abbottabad, Pakistan home for planning.
Despite knowing exactly where Khattala was, senior US officials told The Daily Beast that they had to exercise patience in their execution of the mission while the Justice Department gathered evidence needed for his prosecution, which will likely happen in Washington D.C.
It also emerged this week that the U.S. justified the capture to the UN with intelligence that Khatallah was planning further attempts on American lives.
A letter from the United States ambassador to the UN, delivered to the Security Council, said an investigation: ‘The investigation also determined that he continued to plan further armed attacks against U.S. persons.
‘The measures we have taken to capture Abu Khatallah in Libya were therefore necessary to prevent such armed attacks, and were taken in accordance with the United States’ inherent right of self-defense’.
At least one of the three criminal federal charges faced by Khattala – the first man arrested in connection with the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi – could carry the death penalty.
Khatallah is suspected of being the ringleader of the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including the US ambassador and ignited a political firestorm in Washington.
A criminal complaint filed and released by the U.S. district court for Washington, D.C., accused Khattala of killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility, providing material support to terrorists and using a firearm in commission of a crime of violence.
Indeed, in recent months Khattala had gone into hiding. But last week, new intelligence indicated that he ‘was going to be in a specific place that was advantageous’.
According to The New York Times, President Obama acted on this and gave the order on Friday to pull him from the streets.
‘He was isolated,’ a U.S. official told The Washington Post about the raid. ‘It was pretty clean.’
President Barack Obama said the capture on Sunday of Ahmed abu Khattala sends a clear 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.’
‘We will find you,’ Obama declared.
The mission to apprehend Khattala bears similarities to the extraction carried out in broad-daylight in October that seized terror suspect, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai.
He was was taken by Delta Force soldiers in an early morning raid planned in co-operation with the CIA, FBI and the Libyan government.
The entire smash-and-grab operation – in which no shots were fired – was described at the time as akin to ‘brain surgery-level of precision.’
However, one former Libyan intelligence official expressed surprise to CNN that abu Khattala was taken without a fight and noted that the alleged mastermind of the attack was well-guarded.
The Pentagon declined to discuss further details of the raid.
‘I’m not going to get into specifics on the actual execution of the operation,’ spokesman Adm. John Kirby said on Tuesday to CNN.
The White House would not comment on why he was captured now – nearly a year after he was indicted.
Indeed, last year, Khattala even gave an interview to The New York Times on a hotel patio, drinking a strawberry frappé.
However, the Daily Beast cites a source who suggests that Obama lacked the legal authority to send troops into Libya unilaterally because Khattala didn’t have links to al-Qaeda.
Only recently have investigators found links between him and the terrorists who attacked the United States in 2001.
It was the change in Khattala’s daily routine that gave US officials the confidence to act now according to The New York Times.