State Department Will Not Pursue Death Penalty Against Accused Benghazi Leader

Ahmed Abu Khatalla, the accused ringleader of the of the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed four Americans including a U.S. ambassador, will not face the death penalty if found guilty, Justice Department officials announced Tuesday.

The decision was revealed in a filing to D.C.’s federal trial court and marks a victory for Khatalla’s attorneys who had pressed the government to nix the death penalty as a punishment should the Libyan militant be convicted at trial, the Associated Press reported.

A federal grand jury in Washington indicted Khatalla on 18 charges in October 2014, three months after U.S. special forces captured him during a June raid in Libya.

U.S. investigators have labeled Khatalla as the central figure behind the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on a State Department diplomatic compound that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, State Department information management officer Sean Patrick Smith, and two other Americans.

"The department is committed to ensuring that the defendant is held accountable for his alleged role in the terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission and annex in Benghazi that killed four Americans and seriously injured two others, and if convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison," Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.

Hillary Clinton, who was serving as secretary of state during the attacks, remains at the center of the Republican-led investigation into the attacks.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R, S.C.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, is leading the congressional probe seeking to determine whether Clinton failed to heed proper security warnings prior to the assault.