Abu Ghaith’s charisma and impassioned rhetoric, which helped al-Qaida recruit followers and raise money, made him a natural choice as bin Laden’s spokesman and key adviser, said Tom Lynch, a senior research fellow at National Defense University. He said Abu Ghaith would have all but certainly been included in discussions about the 9/11 attack before it was launched — even if he was not directly involved in the plot.
“He was on Osama bin Laden’s right-hand side, and was used by him as a mouthpiece for the organization,” said attorney Michael Rosensaft, who prosecuted terrorism cases in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan until late 2012 and is now in private practice.
Even so, the U.S. intelligence official said Abu Ghaith probably has few details about ongoing terror threats or other current operational details to share with U.S. officials.
“We’re not alleging that he was a planner, but a player within the group,” the official said.
Abu Ghaith fled with bin Laden when the Taliban were ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001, living for nearly a year in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province before crossing into Pakistan, according to Taliban officials familiar with his movements. Abu Ghaith operated between Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and Middle Eastern countries, they said.
Prosecutors said Abu Ghaith was smuggled into Iran from Afghanistan in 2002. He lived there under house arrest until 2010.
At that time, Western officials say, Tehran brokered a deal with al-Qaida to release Iranian diplomat Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, who was kidnapped in 2008 in Pakistan’s border city of Peshawar, in exchange for Abu Ghaith and several members of bin Laden’s family, including one of his sons. That agreement also allowed al-Qaida access throughout Iran.
Lynch said it’s believed that while living in Iran Abu Ghaith helped coordinate the flow of funding and foreign terror fighters in and out of Pakistan, Iraq and possibly Yemen.