Abu Ghaith’s mystery, from Iran to New York

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Perhaps there was only a duration of three weeks between leaving Iran as a free citizen and entering New York as a detainee, but Kuwaiti citizen Sulaiman Abu Ghaith became the easiest of preys among al-Qaeda leaders to be killed or arrested. Abu Ghaith, who appeared in intimidating videos making threatening speeches with his thunderous voice, escaped with others after their defeat in Afghanistan in 2001 to settle in Iran with other al-Qaeda members including some of Bin Laden’s sons and daughter.

We did not hear Abu Ghaith’s voice since then. He was like the rest of those whom Iranian authorities hosted and prevented from appearing in the press. Turkey has before admitted it released him after interrogation, and recently the Americans announced they arrested him in Jordan. These two incidents made me realize that the story did not add up. How did he leave Iran while under supervision and allegedly with his wife, who is Bin Laden’s daughter, along with his two sons? How did he enter Turkey with an expired Kuwaiti passport? And how does Turkey release a man with such a criminal background? How did he convince an airline company to travel to Jordan? Everyone who travels knows that these issues are almost impossible.

The truth?

The story closer to the truth seems simpler than all of that. All the concerned countries have been in communication regarding Abu Ghaith. These countries are Iran, Turkey, the U.S., Jordan and Kuwait. The Iranians decided to get rid of him so they granted him and his sons original Iranian passports with their real names and released him. Iran, at the same time, informed the Turks the dangerous guest will be arriving in Turkey. The Turks arrested him, but with their sensitivity regarding their image in the region, it seems they decided to hand him over to the Americans in another country - Jordan. They decided to do so although Abu Ghaith entered Turkey legally using an original Iranian passport and they are supposed to deport him to Iran not to Jordan. It also seems that Turkey attempted to have Kuwait receive him. However, Kuwait disowned him clarifying that they withdrew the citizenship from him ten years ago to get rid of him. Kuwait suggested to the Turks that they send Abu Ghaith to Saudi Arabia. I think the Saudis have also rejected that Turkey deport Abu Ghaith to them because he is not Saudi and he has not committed a crime on Saudi territories. It is possible however that Saudi Arabia agreed to receive Abu Ghaith’s wife and her children like it did before with the rest of Bin Laden’s children.

Tricks and games

Finally, the Turks agreed with the Americans to hand him over to them in Jordan, which in turn stipulated that he be deported immediately to the U.S. But how can Abu Ghaith be sent to Jordan? The Turks came up with a good trick. They put him on board a plane heading to Kuwait, which lands for transit in Jordan’s capital Amman, where merchandise should be delivered. And so it happened. The Jordanians took him from the airport and handed him over to the Americans. All what was said about heroic acts is not true. The Americans did not arrest him by conducting a big operation but they took him handcuffed. The Turks did not really release him but they handed him over. The Kuwaitis were not in the dark but were part of this operation. Above all that, Iran sold him but we do not know for how much. The value is of course more than the Americans’ reward of the promised five million dollars for anyone who brings him in dead or alive.

The deep secret is Iran’s relation with al-Qaeda. Although al-Qaeda’s morals represent the maximum level of Sunni extremism, it has never attacked an Iranian target during its twenty years of its appalling acts. al-Qaeda also attacked Israel once in Africa. The rest of its operations always targeted Iran’s enemies. They mainly targeted Saudis, Westerners, Jordanians, Egyptians and others. Most of the Iraqi al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia leaders continued to live under the shadow and protection of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime for nearly ten years until the revolution erupted.

Abu Ghaith fled Afghanistan to Iran to join the rest of al-Qaeda members operating on Iranian territory. Some prominent al-Qaeda figures still live there. One of them is Seif al-Adel who planned the explosions of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Nigeria and who narrated the events of terrorist operations in Saudi in May of 2003. Iran admits he and other al-Qaeda members are present there but it continues to allege that it does not allow them to practice their terrorist activities!

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 10, 2013

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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