NEW YORK – The United States on Tuesday filed the first charges in the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012, officials told CNN.
The charges were filed under seal in a complaint in New York against several people, including Ahmed Abu Khattalah, leader of a Libyan militia that officials believe was involved in the assault, the officials said.
It was not clear on Tuesday whether those who have been charged were the same individuals whose images the FBI released to the public in May, Fox News reports.
Investigators continue to develop their case against Khattalah and others who they believe were involved in the assault, CNN reports.
“It has been, and remains, a top priority,” an official told Fox News. “We have no further comment at this time.”
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALs, died in the attacks.
Stevens had repeatedly requested more security at the consulate in the days leading up to the assault.
Attorney General Eric Holder told congressional lawmakers earlier this year that the Justice Department would soon make public what actions it would take.
The department has also come under criticism for the lack of public progress in the case, especially as the anniversary of the attack neared, and Capitol Hill Republicans have demanded more aggressive steps from new FBI Director James Comey.
Both Justice and the FBI declined to comment to CNN. The agencies are prohibited from discussing matters that are under seal.
It could not be learned when the United States planned to announce the charges or whether there are any efforts to try to detain Khattalah, CNN reports.
None of the officials would discuss the specific charges against Khattalah in the sealed complaint.
But in a recent CNN interview, Khattalah acknowledged being at the Benghazi mission after the attack but denied any involvement. He also told the network he had not been questioned by Libyan authorities or the FBI in the investigation.
U.S. law enforcement officials said it was not unusual for the FBI to not interview defendants in a case while they collect other evidence.
The investigation is led by agents from the FBI in New York and has included some members of the Washington field office, who have traveled to Libya to interview hundreds of witnesses, officials told CNN.
The Libyan assault has become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the Obama administration and Republicans, who have accused the White House of not increasing security before the attack, of botching the response to it, and of misleading the public for political gain less than two months before the November election.
The Benghazi attacks involved scores of militants using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
Stevens took refuge behind a fortified door with heavy metal bars to keep the attackers at bay. But they set fire to the mission — a villa — with diesel fuel.
Five days after the attacks, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on five Sunday morning talk shows, working from talking points that were heavily edited largely at the request of the State Department, and said the assaults began as a peaceful protest against an anti-Muslim film that was later “hijacked” by militants.
The administration later acknowledged, however, that the attacks were the work of a possible terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaida and not a reaction to the video.
Rice, who is now national security adviser, reportedly was a key force behind the Obama administration’s decision to close 20 embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and North Africa in light of possible al-Qaida attacks.
Since the Benghazi attacks, the White House has come under steady criticism by Republicans, particularly Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
The senators, members of the Armed Services Committee, have repeatedly charged that the administration, the State Department, and other federal agencies have barred those who worked in Benghazi from testifying before Congress.
And last week, CNN reported that as many as 35 CIA operatives were on the ground during the attacks — and that the agency was working feverishly to prevent those involved from talking to Congress or the media.
Some of the operatives have been polygraphed every month since January to determine who might be discussing the attacks, CNN reported.
“You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation,” one source told CNN.
Both the CIA and State Department declined to comment on that CNN report.