Ahmed Abu Khattala in D.C.: Benghazi mastermind appears in US court

Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan militant, will go before a D.C. magistrate judge Saturday afternoon. Khattala is charged with masterminding the 2012 attacks that killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

The Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks faces his first court appearance amid tight security at the federal courthouse in Washington.

The U.S. attorney's office says Ahmed Abu Khattala will go before a magistrate judge Saturday afternoon. Khattala is charged in connection with the attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

U.S. special forces captured Abu Khattala in Libya two weeks ago. Officials had been questioning Abu Khattala aboard a Navy ship that transported him to the United States.

Here's how the legal process may play out in the case against Abu Khattala.

Q: What happens at an initial appearance?

A: This the first time a defendant appears in court following his or her arrest. The charges against the defendant are typically explained at this point. A judge advises the defendant of the right to be represented by a lawyer throughout the proceedings. Defendants may or may not be asked to enter a plea at this point. A judge makes a determination on whether the defendant can be released pending the next court date or the defendant must remain in custody.

Q: Who is representing Abu Khattala?

A: That is not yet clear, though defendants are often represented by public defenders or court-appointed attorneys during their first court appearance.

Q: What is the next step in the legal process?

A: In order to move a felony case to trial, the Justice Department must present sufficient evidence to a grand jury to obtain a formal indictment. An indictment is a charging document that prosecutors use as a roadmap for their case and generally provides more information than the initial complaint that has been drawn up. So far, Abu Khattala is charged in a three-count criminal complaint that was unsealed within days of his capture on June 15.

Q: Where is Abu Khattala being held?

A. No plans have been announced, but there are many secure prison facilities — military and civilian — where he could be housed. The courthouse where Abu Khattala would be tried in downtown Washington has a high-security courtroom.

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