|Still image from video obtained by Reuters in May 2002 shows a man believed to be al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith. The source who provided the video to Reuters and a British Sunday newspaper said this video was filmed in March 2002. (REUTERS/Reuters TV/Files)
WASHINGTON - A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who served as al-Qaida’s spokesman was arrested in Jordan and then brought to New York in an operation led by Jordanian authorities and the FBI, U.S. government sources said on Thursday.
The sources said Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a militant who appeared in videos representing al-Qaida after the Sept. 11, attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, had initially been picked up in Turkey.
The Turkish government deported him to Jordan, said the sources, where local authorities and the FBI took custody of him. He had been brought to the United States in the last few days, a law enforcement source said.
Abu Ghaith is now being held in a detention facility in the New York City area and is expected to be charged and eventually brought to trial in federal court. The trial would most likely be in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan, only blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks, a law enforcement source said.
The Justice Department declined to comment and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Initial public confirmation of Abu Ghaith’s capture came from Representative Peter King, a senior Republican member of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“I commend our CIA and FBI, our allies in Jordan, and President (Barack) Obama for their capture of al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. I trust he received a vigorous interrogation, and will face swift and certain justice,” King said in a statement.
“Propaganda statements in which Abu Ghaith and his late father-in-law, Osama bin Laden, praised the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are alone enough to merit the most serious punishment.”
U.S. sources indicated that, while a CIA role in the capture of Abu Ghaith could not be ruled out, the FBI took the lead role in the operation under the auspices of an interagency body known as the High-value Detainee Interrogation Group.
The group was created by Obama’s administration after the president ordered the shut down of a CIA program in which militant suspects were detained and held in a network of secret prisons, during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The suspects were sometimes subjected to controversial and physically coercive “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and also were sometimes transferred without trial to third countries under a procedure known as “extraordinary rendition.”
Records compiled by a United Nations sanctions committee show that Abu Ghaith was born in Kuwait in 1965, but that he left Kuwait for Pakistan in June 2001.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Abu Ghaith first surfaced as one of al-Qaida’s main spokesmen. Later, U.S. officials believe he was part of a group of top al-Qaida figures that included one of bin Laden’s sons, Saad, who allegedly traveled to Iran, where the Iranian government claimed they were being held “in custody.”
The Long War Journal, a counterterrorism blog published by the conservative Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, reported in 2010 that Abu Ghaith had been released by Iranian authorities and supposedly had returned to Afghanistan.