WASHINGTON - Osama bin Laden's spokesman and son-in-law has been captured by the United States, officials said Thursday, in what a senior congressman called a "very significant victory" in the ongoing fight against al-Qaida.
Abu Ghaith is expected to be in U.S. federal court in New York on Friday in an initial hearing to face terror charges, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Rep. Peter King, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, credited the CIA and FBI with catching al-Qaida propagandist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in Jordan within the last week. He said the capture was confirmed to him by U.S. law enforcement officials.
"Definitely, one by one, we are getting the top echelons of al-Qaida," said King, R-N.Y. "I give the (Obama) administration credit for this: it's steady and it's unrelenting and it's very successful."
A Jordanian security official confirmed that al-Ghaith was handed over last week to U.S. law enforcement officials under both nations' extradition treaty. He declined to disclose other details and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
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 Sept. 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 9/11.
He is identified as a major al-Qaida core official by the New America Foundation think tank in Washington. King said Abu Ghaith was involved in planning the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Tom Lynch, a research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, described Abu Ghaith as one of a small handful of senior al-Qaida 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 U.S. to hold — and perhaps try — a reputed al-Qaida core survivor, further tarnishing the AQ core brand, but it also points to the dangers for those few remaining al-Qaida core refugees," Lynch said.
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 in Ankara, the Turkish capital. But Turkish officials decided he had not committed any crime in Turkey and released him, the newspaper reported.
In Ankara, Turkish officials refused to confirm Abu Ghaith's deportation or his capture in Jordan to The Associated Press. In Amman, the Jordanian capital, a security official said he had no information on the CIA arrest in Jordan.
U.S. intelligence officials in Washington and New York refused to comment on the case.