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FILE PHOTO: A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in the United States September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori/File Photo

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By Ayman al-Warfalli

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A man seized by U.S. forces in Libya accused of involvement in an attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador in Benghazi in 2012 is a Syrian who had links to the suspected ringleader, Libyan military officials said on Tuesday.

U.S. special forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in the past few days and he is being transported to the United States, U.S. officials said on Monday, without giving more details.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, eastern-based military officials told Reuters Imam was believed to be a Syrian national aged between 35 and 40.

He had lived in the Benghazi district of Laithi where he frequented the same Al-Awza'i mosque as suspected ringleader Ahmed Abu Khatallah who was snatched by U.S. forces in 2014, the officials said.

U.S. prosecutors opened their case against Abu Khatallah this month.

Imam has been charged with "killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility" and providing "material support to terrorists resulting in death," the U.S. Justice Department said. He will appear before a federal judge in Washington when he arrives in the United States.

Laithi was an Islamist stronghold that saw some of the heaviest fighting in a battle for control of Benghazi that began in 2014.

In July, eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar announced victory in the campaign, which pitted his Libyan National Army (LNA) against Islamists and other opponents.

Officials at the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli could not be reached for comment. The country has rival governments: one in the capital and another in the east allied to Haftar.

An eastern news agency backing the LNA published what it said was a picture of Imam standing in front of the Benghazi barracks of an armed group before it was taken by Haftar's forces. It said he had been captured by U.S. forces in the western city of Misrata.

The Benghazi attack, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, was the topic of numerous congressional hearings, with Republican lawmakers critical of the way in which then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton handled the attack.

Libya has been mired in conflict since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, with Islamists militants gaining ground as fighting between rival factions created a security void.

(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Robin Pomeroy)

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