The suspected Libyan militant behind the 2012 US embassy attack in Benghazi has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges brought up against him at a preliminary hearing before a federal court in Washington DC today.
Ahmed Abu Khattala, represented by a public defender, made his plea on the rare weekend court session in front of lawyers and government officials during a brief-10 minute hearing.
The suspect is due to face court again next week to face three terror-relates charges for the embassy attack which killed US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012, US Attorney's Office spokesman William Miller told the Associated Press.
A criminal complaint filed against the suspect last year was unsealed after his arrest accuses Abu Khattala of killing a person during an attack on a federal facility, which is punishable by death. He also faces two other terror-related charges.
The attack on the embassy compound on the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks has been linked to members of Islamic militant group Ansar al-Shariah, who were brandishing the group's black banners as they stormed the facility with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Stevens suffocated in the main building within the compound after it was set alight, while another American was shot and killed. Two more Americans died when gunmen later shelled and shot at a safe house.
Several people say they witnessed Abu Khattala at the scene, directing attackers in the compound. He has frequently denied his involvement in interviews with the press.
The White House has been criticized for the amount of time it took to capture Abu Khattala, especially in the face of several media interviews he has given in maintaining his innocence.
"Terrorists go to great lengths to avoid capture and it can be a complicated process at getting them," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral Jack Kirby told reporters shortly after Abu Khattala's capture was announced.
"You don't want to launch a complicated mission like this without all the proper information and resources in place. So what matters is not that it took a matter of time to get him, but that we got him," Kirby said.
In bringing Abu Khattala to federal court, the Obama Administration has adhered to its stated position to try suspected terrorists within the US justice system.
The decision has not been received well by Republican critics who have called for the suspect and others to be held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.