Benghazi suspect appears in U.S. courtrooom

The man charged with participating in the lethal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi made his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom Saturday afternoon.

Accompanied by a federal public defender, Ahmed Abu Khatalla appeared for less than 10 minutes before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola. During the brief presentment hearing, Khatalla through his attorney pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge.

Khatalla -- whose last name Justice Department officials spell Khatallah -- is accused of being a leading participating in the Sept. 11-12, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Khatalla was indicted by a federal grand jury on the charge of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, knowing and intending that these would be used in preparation for and in carrying out a killing in the course of an attack on a federal facility, and the offense resulted in death.

The investigation is ongoing and the Justice Department can bring additional charges as the case continues.

"Today we took the first step down the road to justice for the four American heroes killed in Benghazi," said Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. "This prosecution is a reflection of our determination to honor the sacrifice of U.S. citizens who perish on foreign soil in service to our country."

Khatalla, a Libyan national approximately 43 years of age, was taken into custody earlier this month and has since been en route to the United States by a Navy ship, the U.S.S. New York. The lengthy sea voyage gave U.S. interrogators a chance to question him. He initially was charged in a criminal complaint that was filed under seal on July 15, 2013, and that became public on June 17, 2014.The Justice Department secured the defendant's initial indictment on June 26, 2014, and the brief, two-page charging document was unsealed Saturday.

Key details of the U.S. case against Khatalla remain under wraps, including the affidavit of the FBI special agent that accompanied the criminal complaint. Officials have not publicly disclosed whether he is being detained in the D.C. courthouse or in a federal facility across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va. .

By Michael Doyle

McClatchy Washington Bureau