A former spokesman for al-Qaeda and son-in-law of its founder, Osama bin Laden, was captured overseas and secretly brought to New York this month to face a criminal trial for allegedly conspiring to kill Americans, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was initially detained in Turkey last month but was taken into U.S. custody in Jordan while he was being deported to Kuwait, U.S. officials said. He is expected to appear in federal court Friday in the Southern District of New York.
“It has been 13 years since Abu Ghaith allegedly worked alongside Osama bin Laden in his campaign of terror, and 13 years since he allegedly took to the public airwaves, exhorting others to embrace al-Qaeda’s cause and warning of more terrorist attacks like the mass murder of 9/11,” Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said after the indictment against Abu Ghaith was unsealed Thursday. “Today’s action is the latest example of our commitment to capturing and punishing enemies of the United States, no matter how long it takes.”
Abu Ghaith, thought to be in his late 50s, was part of al-Qaeda’s inner circle before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and cemented his connections to the terrorist network’s leader by marrying bin Laden’s oldest daughter, Fatima. In videos and statements posted on Web sites, he celebrated the success of the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and warned that al-Qaeda was entitled to kill millions of additional Americans and employ chemical and biological weapons.
“The storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm,” Abu Ghaith said after the attacks, according to the indictment. He advised Muslims, children and opponents of the United States “not to board any aircraft and not to live in high-rises.”
Abu Ghaith will become the closest relative of bin Laden — who was killed nearly two years ago by U.S. commandos in Pakistan — to face trial in an American court. The case marks a rare instance during the Obama administration in which a senior terrorism suspect has been captured overseas and taken into U.S. custody rather than killed.
U.S. officials said Abu Ghaith was part of a group of al-Qaeda operatives who had taken refuge in Iran, adding that he could prove to be a source of intelligence on that cell’s routing of money and recruits to the terrorist network’s base in Pakistan.
The decision to bring Abu Ghaith, a native of Kuwait, to New York reignited the debate about the disposition of al-Qaeda suspects, with senior Republicans in Congress denouncing the decision to try him in a civilian criminal court rather than a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that “al-Qaeda leaders captured on the battlefield should not be brought to the United States to stand trial.” Saying that U.S. courts are “not the appropriate venue,” Rogers said President Obama should “send any captured al-Qaeda members to Guantanamo.”