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Judge orders Benghazi suspect to remain in U.S. custody

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Libyan militant accused of involvement in the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya will remain in U.S. custody as he awaits trial, a federal judge said on Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ordered the suspect, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, detained after his lawyers raised no objections to a request from federal prosecutors that Khatallah be held because he has no ties to the United States and posed a "serious danger" to others.

Khatallah appeared in court for the second time after being captured on June 15 by a U.S. military and FBI team and transported to the country via U.S. Navy ship. He faces criminal charges over his alleged participation in the attack on the compound in Benghazi that led to the death of four Americans.

He pleaded not guilty to a terrorism conspiracy charge on Saturday.

On Wednesday, his attorney, public defender Michelle Peterson, said prosecutors had yet to provide any evidence of Khatallah's involvement in the attacks.

"The government referred to twenty armed individuals breaching" the compound, but there was "no suggestion" that Khatallah was among them, Peterson told the judge.

In a filing late Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's office in the District of Columbia identified Khatallah as a senior leader of an extremist anti-Western militia, Ansar Al Sharia.

Khatallah entered the American compound after initial attackers broke through, and "supervised the exploitation of material from the scene," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors also said in the filing that they had numerous witnesses and physical evidence to support their case, and that Khatallah gave "voluntary statements corroborating key facts," after his capture.

It was not immediately clear how soon he will face trial.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Khatallah has been talking to U.S. interrogators both before and after he was advised of his right under U.S. law to remain silent, and is being held in Alexandria.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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