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Accused leader of Benghazi attack sentenced to 22 years

June 27 (UPI) — The first suspect to be charged in the 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya was sentenced to 22 years in prison, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a former auto mechanic who prosecutors accused of masterminding the attack that killed four Americans, was found guilty on Nov. 28 of several terrorism-related charges. But Khatallah was found not guilty of the more serious charges, including murder.

The sentence imposed Wednesday is for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, destroying property, placing lives in jeopardy within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and one count of using and carrying a semiautomatic assault rifle during a crime of violence.

Despite being found not guilty of the more serious charges, District Judge Christopher Cooper still could have imposed a life sentence on Khatallah based on the charges he was convicted of but chose not to.

“Even if you did not pour the gasoline or light the match, the evidence showed you were aware of the attack, and once the gates were breached, the likelihood someone would die was extreme high. This was not guilt by association,” Cooper told Khatallah, according to The Washington Post. “This case stands as an exemplar for the principle that a defendant accused of international terrorism can get a fair trial in the U.S. criminal justice system.”

Khatallah’s sentence marks an end to a four-year legal battle since he was captured in Libya on June 14, 2014 and taken to the United States to stand trial.

Prosecutors accused Khatallah of directing a group that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

“A group of men, armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades, and other weapons, swept into the Mission compound, setting fires and breaking into buildings,” prosecutors said.

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. government personnel Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the attack.

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