Sitting with a friend in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel, the 41-year-old, sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently.
A Libyan interior minister official close to the investigation told Reuters that a photograph was taken of Abu Khattala at the consulate at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks but there was not enough evidence to arrest him.
"There were many people there from Ansar al-Shariah, from other brigades and from the general public," the official, who refused to be named, said, referring to the hardline Islamist militia group which has been blamed for the attack.
"Just because someone is there doesn't mean they were behind it."
Abu Khattala denied being a leader of Ansar al-Shariah, but said he was friendly with the group and knew its membership well.
A U.S. official said there may be more than person taking a lead role in the group.
"Ansar al-Shariah is a factionalised militant group without one home address," the official told Reuters. "There may be several military commanders playing a role in its activities."
Abu Khattala said that on the night of Sept. 11, he received a phone call telling him that an attack on the U.S. consulate was in progress and that he then went to the scene.
"I arrived at the street parallel to the consulate and waited for other brigade leaders to show me the way to the buildings," he said. "I arrived at the scene just like the others did -- to see what was happening."
Denies leading attack
Abu Khattala denied sanctioning or leading the attack, but said he understood the anger which fuelled it.