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The Abu Ghaith Mystery - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the space of three weeks between leaving Iran as a free citizen and entering New York as a detainee, former Kuwaiti citizen Suleiman Abu Ghaith became the easiest of prey in terms of Al-Qaeda leaders to be killed or arrested. Abu Ghaith, who has appeared in several intimidating video postings with his threatening rhetoric, fled Afghanistan in 2001 after Al-Qaeda’s defeat there to settle in Iran with other members of the organization, including some of Bin Laden’s sons and daughters, one of whom is his wife.

We have not heard from Abu Ghaith since then until now. He was just another Al-Qaeda affiliate hosted by the Iranian authorities and prevented from appearing in the media. Turkey previously admitted it had released him after questioning, and now the Americans have announced they arrested him in Jordan. But these two incidents made me realize that the story does not add up. How did he leave Iran while under state supervision, allegedly accompanied by his wife, who is Bin Laden’s daughter, along with his two sons? How did he enter Turkey with an expired Kuwaiti passport? Why would Turkey release a man with such a criminal background? How did he convince an airline to allow him to travel to Jordan without a valid passport?

The story closer to the truth is simpler than all of that. All the countries concerned— Iran, Turkey, the US, Jordan, and Kuwait— have been in communication with regards to Abu Ghaith. The Iranians decided to get rid of him so they granted him and his sons authentic Iranian passports, with their real names, and released him. Iran, at the same time, informed the Turks that a dangerous guest would soon be arriving in Turkey. The Turks then arrested him, but given their cautious approach to their image in the region, it seems they decided to hand him over to the Americans in another country—Jordan. The Turks opted to do so even though Abu Ghaith had entered Turkey legally using an authentic Iranian passport, and if he were to be repatriated he should have been deported back to Iran, not Jordan. Turkey may have tried to convince Kuwait to receive Abu Ghaith, but the Kuwaitis withdrew citizenship from him ten years ago in an effort to get rid of him. Another option could have been Saudi Arabia, but I believe the Saudis also refused to get involved because Abu Ghaith is not a Saudi national and has not committed a crime on Saudi territory. However, it is possible that the Saudis agreed to receive Abu Ghaith’s wife and her children, like they did in the past with the rest of Bin Laden’s offspring.

Finally, the Turks agreed with the Americans to hand Abu Ghaith over to them in Jordan, where he would be transferred immediately to the U.S. But how could they get him to Jordan in the first place? The Turks came up with a good trick. They put Abu Ghaith on board a plane bound for Kuwait, landing for transit in Jordan’s capital Amman in order to deliver goods. And so it happened. The Jordanians took him from the airport and handed him over to the Americans. The Americans did not arrest him through a large-scale operation; they took him in handcuffs. The Turks did not really release him after questioning; they handed him over. The Kuwaitis were not in the dark; they were part of the plan. Above all this, Iran sold him, but we do not know the price as of yet. What is certain is that it will be far more than the Americans’ promised reward of five million dollars for anyone who brings them Abu Ghaith dead or alive.

The underlying secret here is Iran’s relationship with Al-Qaeda. Although Al-Qaeda’s literature is the very essence of Sunni extremism, the organization has never attacked an Iranian target during its twenty years of horrific crimes. Al-Qaeda has attacked Israel once, in Africa, and the rest of its operations have always targeted Iran’s enemies, mainly Westerners, Saudis, Jordanians, Egyptians, and so on. Most of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Iraq continued to live under the shadow and protection of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime for nearly ten years, until the revolution erupted there.

Abu Ghaith fled Afghanistan for Iran in order to join the other Al-Qaeda members operating on Iranian soil. Indeed, some prominent Al-Qaeda figures still live there. One of them is Seif Al-Adel, who masterminded the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and who directed the terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia in May 2003. Iran even admits that he and other Al-Qaeda members are present in the country, but it continues to claim it does not allow them to carry out terrorist acts!

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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