US captures Bin Laden's spokesman
Still image from video in May 2002 shows a man believed to be al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith. Photograph: Reuters
Osama bin Laden’s spokesman and son-in-law has been captured by the United States, officials said today, in what a senior congressman called a “very significant victory” in the fight against al-Qaeda.
Abu Ghaith is expected to be in US federal court in New York tomorrow in an initial hearing to face terror charges, according to a law enforcement official.
Peter King, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, credited the CIA and FBI with catching al-Qaeda propagandist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in Jordan within the last week. He said the capture was confirmed to him by US law enforcement officials.
A Jordanian security official confirmed that Abu Ghaith was handed over last week to US law enforcement officials under both nations’ extradition treaty.
“Definitely, one by one, we are getting the top echelons of al-Qaeda,” said Mr King, a Republican. “I give the (Obama) administration credit for this: it’s steady and it’s unrelenting and it’s very successful.”
Abu Ghaith became an international name in late 2001 when he appeared on pan-Arab satellite television urging Muslims everywhere to fight the United States and warning of more attacks similar to those of September 11.
In one video, he was sitting with bin Laden in front of a rock face in Afghanistan.
A teacher and mosque preacher in Kuwait, he was stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship after September 11, 2001.
He is identified as a major al-Qaeda core official by the New America Foundation think tank in Washington. Mr King said Abu Ghaith was involved in the planning in the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.
Tom Lynch, a research fellow at the National Defence University in Washington, described Abu Ghaith as one of a small handful of senior al-Qaeda leaders “capable of getting the old band back together and postured for a round of real serious international terror”.
“His capture and extradition not only allows the US to hold — and perhaps try - a reputed al-Qaeda core survivor, further tarnishing the AQ core brand, but it also points to the dangers for those few remaining al-Qaeda core refugees,” Mr Lynch said.
Abu Ghaith’s trial will make for one of the relatively few prosecutions of senior al-Qaeda leaders on US soil. Charging foreign terror suspects in American federal courts was a top pledge by president Barack Obama shortly after he took office in 2009 — aimed, in part, to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Since September 11, 67 foreign terror suspects have been convicted in US federal courts, according to watchdog group Human Rights First, which obtained the data from the Justice Department through a Freedom of Information request.
By comparison, of the thousands of detainees who were swept up shortly after the terror attacks and held at Guantanamo Bay, only seven were convicted by military tribunals held at the US Navy base in Cuba, the watchdog group said. The vast majority have been sent back overseas, either for rehabilitation or continued detention and prosecution.
“They know this is where this case belongs,” Raha Wala, Human Rights First’s national security attorney, said in a statement, praising the move to prosecute Abu Ghaith in New York.
“That decision underscores the confidence Americans should have in our tried and true system of justice and its ability to handle these complex cases.” The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that Abu Ghaith was caught while passing through Jordan, on his way to Kuwait, shortly after leaving Turkey.
The newspaper said that Abu Ghaith was taken into custody more than a month ago at a luxury hotel in Ankara, the Turkish capital. But Turkish officials decided he had not committed any crime in Turkey and released him, the newspaper reported.