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By Laura King and Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times

CAIRO—Libya’s weak interim government on Wednesday verbally assailed the U.S. capture of a suspected mastermind of the 2012 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans and set off a political firestorm in the United States.

At a news conference nearly 24 hours after the Pentagon publicly disclosed the special-operations raid that netted Ahmed Abu Khattala, Justice Minister Saleh Marghani denounced the U.S. military action as a violation of Libyan sovereignty and demanded that Abu Khattala be returned to Libya for trial.

“We had no prior notification,” the minister told reporters. “We did not expect the U.S. to upset our political order.”

Libya said it had had an arrest warrant out for Abu Khattala but that turmoil in Benghazi, the hub of Libya’s east, had prevented it from being executed.

After being grabbed Sunday on a street outside Benghazi, Abu Khattala was swiftly bundled onto an American warship and President Barack Obama declared that he would face the “full weight” of U.S. justice.

U.S. officials in Washington characterized the capture of Abu Khatalla, who had lived openly in Benghazi even after being accused of plotting the storming of the U.S. Consulate in the city, as a long-planned response to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Central authority in Libya has weakened dramatically in recent months as fighting among rival militias — one-time allies in the uprising that toppled and killed strongman Moammar Gadhafi — has engulfed the country. The situation is particularly dire in Benghazi, which is plagued by near-daily bombings, abductions and assassinations, many of them blamed on Islamist groups such as Ansar al Sharia, with which Abu Khattala was affiliated.

Deepening the turmoil, a rogue ex-general, Khalifa Hifter, has in recent weeks launched a self-declared war against the Islamists. He has urged regular Libyan military units to join forces with him and has marshaled weapons including artillery and attack aircraft to bombard Islamist militias’ positions in Benghazi.

The Islamists and Hifter’s troops routinely exchange fire with heavy weapons while civilians cower in their homes.

AFP Photo/Abdullah Doma

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