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First charges filed in Benghazi attack that killed 4 Americans

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this Sept. 12, 2012, file photo, a man looks at documents at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013 | 6:14 p.m.

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U.S. envoy Chris Stevens speaks to local media at the Tibesty Hotel, where an African Union delegation was meeting with opposition leaders in Benghazi, Libya, on April 11, 2011. Libyan officials say the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has filed the first criminal charges in the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The officials confirmed that a sealed indictment was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington against an unspecified number of individuals in the September 2012 attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. One official said those charged included Ahmed Abu Khattala, the head of a Libyan militia. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a sealed indictment.

Earlier, CNN, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal reported that unspecified counts had been filed and sealed in the Benghazi attack.

"The department's investigation is ongoing. It has been, and remains, a top priority," said Justice Department spokesman Andrew C. Ames, who declined to comment further.

A key Republican urged the administration to do more than file charges.

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

"Osama bin Laden had been criminally charged long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but was not apprehended," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. U.S. Navy SEALS killed bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011. "Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers," Issa added, "will only put American lives at further and needless risk."

The Associated Press reported in May that American officials had identified five men who might be responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi that occurred just weeks before President Barack Obama's re-election. The suspects were not named publicly, but the FBI released photos of three of the five suspects, asking the public to provide more information on the men pictured. The images were captured by security cameras at the U.S. diplomatic post during the attack, but it took weeks for the FBI to see and study them. The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies identified the men through contacts in Libya and by monitoring their communications. They are thought to be members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were seen near the U.S. diplomatic facility prior to the violence.

Waiting to prosecute the suspects instead of grabbing them now could add to the political burden the Benghazi case already has placed on Obama and Democrats who want to succeed him in 2016.

Since Obama's re-election, Republicans in Congress have condemned the administration's handling of the matter, criticizing the level of embassy security and questioning the talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her public explanation of the attack. Conservatives have suggested that the White House tried to play down the incident to minimize its effect on the president's campaign.

Republicans also have taken political aim at Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack and is a possible Democratic presidential contender in 2016.

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