WASHINGTON — A senior al-Qaida leader and member of Osama bin Laden's inner circle was charged Thursday with conspiring to kill Americans in his role as the terror network's top propagandist who lauded the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and warned there would be more.
Officials said Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was born in Kuwait and was bin Laden's son-in-law, was captured in Jordan in the past week. He will appear today in federal court in New York, according to a Justice Department statement and indictment outlining the accusations against Abu Ghaith.
"No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice," Attorney General Eric Holder said in the statement. "To violent extremists who threaten the American people and seek to undermine our way of life, this arrest sends an unmistakable message: 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."
The case marks a legal victory for the Obama administration, which has long sought to charge senior al-Qaida suspects in American federal courts instead of holding them at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But it immediately sparked an outcry from Republicans in Congress who do not want high-threat terror suspects brought into the United States.
"If this man, the spokesman of 9/11, isn't an enemy combatant, who is?" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. Abu Ghaith "should be going to Gitmo. He should be kept there and questioned."
The Justice Department said Abu Ghaith was the spokesman for al-Qaida, working alongside bin Laden and current leader Ayman al-Zawahri, since at least May 2001. Abu Ghaith is a former mosque preacher and teacher and urged followers that month to swear allegiance to bin Laden, prosecutors said.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, prosecutors say he appeared with bin Laden and al-Zawahri and called on the "nation of Islam" to battle Jews, Christians and Americans.
Kuwait stripped him of his citizenship after Sept. 11.
Tom Lynch, a research fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, described Abu Ghaith as one of a few 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.
Abu Ghaith's trial will mark one of the first prosecutions of senior al-Qaida leaders on U.S. soil.
Exactly how the United States captured Abu Ghaith is unclear.