WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the alleged mastermind behind the 2012 terrorist attacks against U.S. Consulate Benghazi who was taken into U.S. custody in June, attended a pretrial hearing on Wednesday at a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.
Khatallah is currently facing a single charge of conspiracy to provide material support and resource to terrorists that resulted in death. Prosecutors, however, consider the charge a "place holder" so as to avoid revealing case evidence while the prosecution continues to search for witnesses to the attack and weighs a superseding indictment of additional charges, an unidentified U.S. official told the Washington Post.
Khatallah entered a plea of not guilty at his indictment on Saturday.
At his pretrial hearing on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo stated that multiple witnesses will testify to Khatallah's involvement in the attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi; that he is a "senior leader" in militant group Ansar al-Sharia's Benghazi branch; that he was armed when American forces captured him in a secret raid in June; and that he "took steps to avoid capture."
Khatallah's public defender, Michelle Peterson, expressed frustration with the lack of evidence shared by the prosecution as part of the discovery process. She told the judge "There's an utter lack of evidence of Mr. Khattala's involvement in what happened in Benghazi... It's incredibly difficult for us to defend Mr. Khattala against the charges against him [given the] very, very limited discovery."
With regard to the prosecution's statement that at the time of his seizure, Khatallah was armed, she explained that carrying a weapon inside the unstable North African country was "not at all unusual." She added that her client "has, in fact, spent a decade fighting Gaddafi," whose overthrow the U.S. supported.
Peterson also asked Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson to consider Khatallah's request for halal meals and an Arabic-language Koran, a request the judge directed Peterson bring to the U.S. marshals.
Khatallah was seized on June 15 by U.S. Special Operations near Benghazi and was held in a secure location outside Libya before his extradition to the U.S. aboard the USS New York. He is currently begin housed at a secure detention center in Alexandria, Virginia.