FBI Director James Comey, backed by law enforcement personnel, addresses a news conference Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at the FBI Minneapolis field office in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Comey said the arrest Sunday of a Libyan militant in the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi is a very good day for law enforcement and added that the FBI's No. 1 priority remains counterterrorism. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)The Associated Press
FILE - This Sept. 12, 2012 file photo shows glass, debris and overturned furniture are strewn inside a room in the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Pentagon says a Libyan militant accused in a deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, is in U.S. custody. The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala marks the first time the U.S has apprehended one of the accused perpetrators in the 2012 attack. Khattala is a senior leader of the Benghazi branch of the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia. (AP Photo/Ibrahim Alaguri, File)The Associated Press
President Barack Obama speaks about the capture of Libyan militant suspected of killing Americans in Benghazi, during his visit to TechShop in Pittsburgh, Pa., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Obama says he authorized an operation in Libya to detain Ahmed Abu Khattala. His capture marks the first apprehension of an alleged perpetrator in the 2012 attack that killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)The Associated Presshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeqswKlmJEs
His arrest may not be the last.
FBI Director James Comey, speaking in Minnesota, said Abu Khattala's arrest sends a message to others who need to be held accountable for the Benghazi attacks.
"We will shrink the world to find you. We will shrink the world to bring you to justice," said Comey, whose agents were involved in the operation.
A witness interviewed by The Associated Press following the attack said Abu Khattala was present at the building when it came under attack nearly two years ago, directing fighters. Abu Khattala acknowledged being there but said he was helping rescue trapped people. The Libyan was the commander of a militant group called the Abu Obaida bin Jarrah Brigade and is accused of being a senior leader of the Benghazi branch of Ansar al-Shariah in Libya, which the U.S. has designated a terror group.
As recently as last August, Abu Khattala told the AP that he was not in hiding nor had he been questioned by Libyan authorities about the attack at the diplomatic compound. He denied involvement and said he had abandoned the militia. Administration officials said Tuesday that despite his media interviews, he "evaded capture" until the weekend, when military special forces, including members of the Army's elite Delta Force, nabbed him.
The Pentagon press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said that regardless of how openly the Libyan was said to have been living, the important point was that he now is in custody.
People should not think this was a situation where "he was going to McDonald's for milkshakes every Friday night and we could have just picked him up in a taxi cab," Kirby said. "These people deliberately try to evade capture."
The Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Stevens was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in more than 30 years. In the immediate aftermath, political reaction formed along sharply drawn lines that hold fast to this day.
With the presidential election near, Republicans accused the White House of intentionally misleading voters about what sparked the attack by portraying it as one of the many protests over an anti-Muslim video made in America, instead of a calculated terrorist attack on the president's watch. Obama, for his part, accused the Republicans of politicizing a national tragedy.
After 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings, more congressional hearings are yet to come. One element in the ongoing political situation: The attacks unfolded while Hillary Rodham Clinton, now considered a likely Democratic presidential candidate, was secretary of state, and Republicans have faulted her words and actions in many respects.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Julie Pace, Donna Cassata and Eric Tucker in Washington, Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.