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

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Sulaiman Abu Ghaith

A man identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who served as al Qaeda's spokesman, Abu Gaith was detained in Jordan and sent to the United States. (HANDOUT/Reuters /Landov)

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 tell NPR 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.

Categories: Criminal Justice