Bin Laden's Son-In-Law Arrested, Brought To U.S.

Mar 7, 2013
Originally published on March 8, 2013 9:22 am

Update at 4:30 p.m. EST. Details Of Capture

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and a former al-Qaida spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, is in U.S. custody and is being held in a Manhattan jail. He could appear in a federal court as soon as Friday, U.S. officials familiar with the case say.

His capture is considered important not just because he was so close to bin Laden but also because U.S. officials have decided to try him in a federal court, not Guantanamo Bay.

Abu Ghaith, 48, may be best known for his multiple appearances in al-Qaida propaganda videos. In one, shortly after 9-11, he is seen sitting next to his father-in-law, the founder of al-Qaida, as he took credit for the Sept. 11 attacks. Then Abu Ghaith took the microphone to praise the attacks as well.

"I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President Obama for their capture of al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith," Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, said in a statement, confirming the arrest. "I trust he received a vigorous interrogation and will face swift and certain justice."

Living In Iran

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Ghaith went into hiding, although officials had a pretty good idea where he was. He was part of a contingent of top al-Qaida operatives who have been hiding in Iran for the past decade, according to U.S. and European counter-terrorism officials.

They say the list of people living there reads like a Who's Who of al-Qaida founding members, including Saif al-Adel, a man who was rumored to have been a top contender to lead the group after bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos in Pakistan in 2011.

It has been an open secret that those al-Qaida operatives – and often their families — are living in Iran just over the border from Pakistan. Their ability to move around and leave Iran appears to depend on the whims of the government there.

Sources familiar with the case say that bin Laden's son-in-law left Iran last month to travel to Turkey. He entered the country under a false passport and Turkish authorities subsequently found him and arrested him in a luxury hotel in Ankara, the Turkish capital. They held him briefly but then decided that they couldn't detain him because hadn't committed a crime on Turkish soil.

Abu Ghaith is originally from Kuwait. He was stripped of his passport soon after 9-11, so he is essentially stateless. Nevertheless, the Turkish authorities decided to deport him back to Kuwait via Jordan.

It was during that transfer that U.S. officials picked him up, officials said. Some media outlets are reporting that the CIA was involved. Others say it was the Special Forces.

The U.S. government has not said how Abu Gaith came into its custody. But he was flown to New York after a big internal discussion within the U.S. government on the best venue in which to try him. And it appears the decision was to bring charges in a federal court.

Where To Put Him On Trial?

On the surface, Abu Ghaith would appear to be a perfect candidate for the military commissions tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. That is where the alleged 9-11 defendants – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men – are on trial.

The military commissions were created to try terrorism suspects who are foreign and have al-Qaida links; so bin Laden's son-in-law certainly appeared to qualify.

In fact, Congress has required that these sorts of defendants be taken to Guantanamo, or at least be put in military custody, as a matter of course. But the administration has been very adamant about not being hemmed in on these kinds of prosecution decisions.

There is a chance that Abu Ghaith will appear in court tomorrow, though observers are unlikely to get a look at him. It would likely be a closed court session in which is indictment is officially unsealed.

The FBI has been talking to him since he arrived in New York and it was unclear whether he was cooperating. If he is, then it is less likely that there will be in court appearance on Friday. The prosecution may want to see how much he is willing to cooperate before he is charged.

Update at 6:07 p.m. ET. Charges Of Conspiring To Kill Americans

Ghaith has been charged with conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, according to the indictment against him.

"No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "There is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice because we will do everything in our power to hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

Here's our original post:

A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has been extradited to the United States and could appear in court as soon as Friday, say sources familiar with the case.

The man, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, may be best known for his appearance in videos. He was sitting next to bin Laden when the al-Qaida leader took credit for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He has been in videos advocating more violence against the U.S. And he has been wanted by U.S. law enforcement for some time.

Ghaith was arrested in Turkey in February, the sources say, after he entered that country from Iran under a false passport. Turkey then said it would deport him to Kuwait, via Jordan. He was intercepted by U.S. officials in Jordan last week and then brought to the U.S.

Sources say Ghaith is now in Manhattan.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., tells The Associated Press that Ghaith's arrest is a sign that "definitely, one by one, we are getting the top echelons of al-Qaida. I give the (Obama) administration credit for this: it's steady and it's unrelenting and it's very successful."

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011 during a raid on the compound where he had been living in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

(Dina Temple-Raston is NPR's counterterrorism correspondent.)

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Osama bin Laden's son-in-law has been captured in Jordan, flown around the world and is now being held in a Manhattan jail. He's expected to appear for arraignment tomorrow in federal court. He'll be charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins us now from New York with the details. And, Dina, tell us what you know about bin Laden's son-in-law and his role in al-Qaida.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, his name is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, and he's 48 years old. He was a spokesman for al-Qaida, and he appeared in a lot of the terrorist organization's propaganda videos. He was in one video that came out just a day after the 9/11 attacks, in which bin Laden took credit for the attacks, and Abu Ghaith praised him on camera. He was sitting right next to his father-in-law in that video.

So he's someone U.S. intelligence officials have been tracking for a really long time. They unsealed his indictment and, basically, he's being charged with conspiracy to kill Americans.

CORNISH: And I gather after 9/11, he went into hiding.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He did. Officials had a pretty good idea where he was. He was part of a contingent of top al-Qaida operatives who've been hiding out in Iran for the past decade. And the list of people there reads like a who's who of remaining al-Qaida founding members. It had been an open secret that they were there, and this is mentioned in the indictment they unsealed this afternoon, that he arranged to smuggle himself into Iran from Afghanistan in 2002.

CORNISH: Now, what do you know about how he was captured?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we understand from sources familiar with the case that bin Laden's son-in-law had left Iran last month to travel to Turkey, and he entered Turkey under a false passport. Authorities there found him in a luxury hotel in Ankara, and they arrested him and they held him briefly. And then they decided they couldn't hold him because he hadn't committed a crime on Turkish soil. So they decided to deport him back to Kuwait where he is originally from. And then Abu Ghaith was on his way to Kuwait via Jordan when U.S. officials picked him up.

CORNISH: And then they bring him to New York?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Apparently, there was a big internal discussion within the U.S. government on the best place to try him. And it appears they decided the best place was a federal court in the southern district of New York.

CORNISH: So a federal court in New York instead of, say, Guantanamo.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, on the surface, you'd think he'd be a perfect candidate for the military commissions. These courts are supposed to be for terrorists and suspects who are foreign and have al-Qaida links, so he appears to qualify. But, in fact, Congress has required that these sorts of people be taken to Guantanamo, not federal court. But from the charges that were unsealed today, those are kinds of charges that aren't internationally recognized as war crimes, but are very common in federal courts in the United States.

CORNISH: And so they are, in this case, looking to try him in federal court in New York.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. In the southern district of New York, which has done a lot of these terrorism trials, he's scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The FBI's been talking to him since he arrived in New York, and it's unclear whether he's cooperating. If he is, it's less likely that there would be a court appearance tomorrow because this is when all the horse trading happens, when charges are tweaked in exchange for cooperation. So that's the next thing to look for, whether he's cooperating. You know, he was in Iran with a bunch of people that the U.S. is very eager to capture and talk to, so he could be very helpful in that way.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston speaking to us in New York. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.