The Benghazi Attack’s Person of Continuing Interest
Ahmad Abu Khattallah does not dispute claims he was at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi the night it was attacked. “We had heard there was some shooting at the area,” says the man with a beard down to his chest. “February 17th [a brigade tasked with protecting the mission] asked us to help them extricate some of their men holed up in the mission.” But when asked who was behind the Sept. 11, 2012 assault that took the life of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Khattallah gazes without emotion at his mobile phone as he sits for one of several interviews with TIME in a local hotel. “The attack came from the people,” he says, pausing to capture his thoughts. “I don’t know if anything was planned.” He grows vehement when confronted with allegations that he masterminded the raid (the Associated Press interviewed a witness who claims that Khattallah, who heads a militia called Abu Obaida Bin Jarra, guided fighters around the compound.) “The attack,” Khattallah insists, “that was not us.”
In a number of meetings over two weeks, Khattallah discussed everything from Islam’s respect of other religions to his qualms with Washington’s Middle East policies. But it is his alleged role in the Benghazi debacle that has made him a person of interest for Americans. As if to belie accusations that could well catapult him to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted List, Khattallah has not gone into hiding and wanders the streets of Benghazi freely.