– Bin Laden Son-in-Law in Custody in New York (Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2013):
WASHINGTON—U.S. counterterrorism operatives captured a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and brought him to New York City, where he is likely to face criminal charges as an alleged member of al Qaeda, people familiar with the matter said.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, identified by counterterrorism officials as a spokesman for the terror group once led by his father-in-law, was recently deported from Turkey to Jordan, where U.S. agents captured him, a person familiar with the case said.
On Thursday, officials said the suspect was in federal custody in New York and likely would make a court appearance this week. It wasn’t yet clear what specific charges he would face, but U.S. officials consider him a longtime member of the core al Qaeda terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The suspect was flown to New York by the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week, and he has been talking to interrogators since then, according to the people familiar with the case. Since before the 2001 attacks, federal prosecutors in New York have been conducting the investigation and prosecution of al Qaeda, particularly the founding members and early adherents.
U.S. officials believe Mr. Abu Ghaith traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 and joined up with al Qaeda there. He has appeared on public videos defending the 2001 attacks.
Mr. Abu Ghaith, described by counterterrorism experts as a former teacher and preacher who is in his late 40s, appeared in one video seated beside bin Laden, pledging further attacks on Americans.
In an October 2001 videotaped message, Mr. Abu Ghaith warned America that “the storms of planes will not stop until you drag your defeated tails from Afghanistan, not until you raise your hands from the Jews in Palestine, not until you lift the embargo on the Iraqi people, not until you leave the Arabian Peninsula, not until you stop supporting the Hindus against the Muslims in Kashmir.”
He also warned of retaliation against Britain. After the videos appeared, Kuwait, his country of birth, stripped him of citizenship.
Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) said the capture “shows again that core al Qaeda is being devastated. It goes right to the heart of al Qaeda, because it’s bin Laden’s son-in-law. That’s a psychological victory for us and a psychological defeat for al Qaeda.”
In May 2011, U.S. Special Operations forces killed bin Laden during a nighttime raid on the compound in Pakistan where he had been living in secret.
Mr. Abu Ghaith was in Ankara, Turkey, last month when he was taken into custody on suspicion of having entered the country illegally with a false passport.
Turkey didn’t turn him over to U.S. authorities but instead decided to deport him to Kuwait via Jordan, officials said. U.S. operatives then captured him in Jordan, the officials said.
Some Republicans said the U.S. should have brought Mr. Abu Ghaith to the offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rather than prepare criminal charges in a regular federal court.
“Al Qaeda leaders captured on the battlefield should not be brought to the United States to stand trial,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee. “We should treat enemy combatants like the enemy.”
Since 2002, Mr. Abu Ghaith’s activities have been something of a mystery, with counterterrorism officials seeking to determine if he was in Iran, possibly being held prisoner there. U.S. officials believe he has been a member of al Qaeda’s so-called management council in Iran, a group that was formed in 2002 to advise bin Laden and provides support to the group’s leaders in Pakistan.
After Mr. Abu Ghaith was detained in Turkey, White House officials became angry that Turkey didn’t immediately hand him over to the U.S., said a former U.S. official familiar with the matter. The route to the U.S. through Jordan appears to have provided an alternative more palatable to Turkish officials.
The capture of Mr. Abu Ghaith is significant because it takes a key player out of the game and will provide a window into a shadowy component of al Qaeda, the management council in Iran, said Seth Jones, an al Qaeda specialist at Rand Corp., a nonprofit research organization.
“This would provide a much better first-hand understanding of the Iranian dimension to al Qaeda,” Mr. Jones said.
Iran has provided sanctuary, in effect, to several senior al Qaeda leaders over the years, said Mr. Jones. Some al Qaeda operatives fled to Iran when the U.S. opened its Afghan offensive in 2001.
Since then, these operatives have used their Iranian beachhead to communicate, move money and recruit members, Mr. Jones said. Some lower-level al Qaeda operatives also are thought to be in Iran.
“For him to have actually left the country, he would definitely have known he was taking a big gamble,” Mr. Jones said.