The US Justice Department has filed the first criminal charges in the deadly attack on the US diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi, two US officials have said, with local media reporting that they include a murder count filed against a prominent Libyan militia leader.
The officials confirmed on Tuesday that a sealed complaint was filed in a district court in Washington against an unspecified number of individuals regarding the September 2012 attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US citizens.
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 authorised to discuss a sealed indictment.
The New York Times reported late on Tuesday that Khattala had been charged with murder and that he has said in an interview that he is innocent. At least two other foreigners have been charged in the attacks, the newspaper said.
Speaking in October 2012, Khattala said that he had been at the scene of the attack after it occurred, and denied any involvement in it.
Meanwhile, US Republicans continue to criticise the President Barack Obama's administration's handling of the Benghazi case, saying that the charges are not enough and that delaying the apprehension of the suspects is putting American lives at risk.
Since Obama's re-election, Republicans in Congress have condemned the administration's handling of the matter, criticising the level of embassy security and questioning the talking points provided to UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her public explanation of the attack.
Conservatives have suggested that the White House tried to play down the incident to minimise its effect on the president's campaign for re-election.
Republicans have also taken political aim at Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack and is a possible Democratic presidential contender in 2016.
'Lives at needless risk'
A key Republican lawmaker, meanwhile, has urged the administration to do more than file charges.
"Osama bin Laden had been criminally charged long before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but was not apprehended," Congressman Darrell Issa said in a statement.
US 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 September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi that occurred just weeks before President 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 US diplomatic post during the attack, but it took weeks for the FBI to see and study them.
The FBI and other US intelligence agencies identified the men through contacts in Libya and by monitoring their communications.
They are thought to be members of Ansar al-Sharia, the Libyan militia group whose fighters were seen near the US diplomatic facility prior to the violence.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies