Lawyers paint opposing portraits of bin Laden kin
NEW YORK (AP) — Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law became a key player in al-Qaida’s campaign of terror after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a U.S. federal prosecutor told jurors Monday, while a defense lawyer argued that the government had no evidence against his client and was playing on the jury’s fears.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, who was brought to New York last year after his capture in Turkey, has pleaded not guilty charges he conspired to kill Americans and provided material support to al-Qaida. He the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to face trial on U.S. soil since 9/11.
The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he went to Afghanistan as a religious scholar concerned about oppression of all Muslims, he never swore an oath of allegiance to bin Laden and he had no role in promoting terrorism.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said that bin Laden had recruited the defendant to be an al-Qaida spokesman “to send a message — a message that al-Qaida’s attacks on Sept. 11 were justified that the United States got what it deserved.”
Abu Ghaith, an imam from Kuwait, delivered fiery videotaped sermons in Arabic that were intended to drive “more men to al-Qaida and its mission,” Cronan said. “Al-Qaida needed these young men to be its next generation of terrorists.”
For at least the third time in the trial, prosecutors showed jurors clips of a late 2001 or early 2002 “Convoy of Martyrs” promotional al-Qaida video that included Abu Ghaith speaking and scenes in which the second plane flies into a World Trade Center tower, leaving both 110-story towers in flames.
Then they showed a video in which Abu Ghaith looks at bin Laden admiringly as the al-Qaida leader boasts that he knew the heat from the flaming towers would be enough to make them fall.
Abu Ghaith’s attorney, Stanley Cohen, countered in his closing that there was no evidence his client played any significant role in al-Qaida in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He accused prosecutors of seeking to manipulate jurors by showing them a video of the jets crashing in the twin towers and relentlessly referencing 9/11, even though Abu Ghaith isn’t charged in the attack.
The video “was designed to sweep you away in anguish and pain and to ask for retaliation,” he said.
The defense attorney later warned the jury that prosecutors “want you to return a verdict not based on evidence, but based on fear.”
Jury deliberations were set to begin Tuesday. If convicted, Abu Ghaith could face life in prison.
On Monday, Cronon argued the evidence against the defendant — including propaganda audio and videotapes of him speaking on behalf of al-Qaida — is overwhelming. He argued that Abu Ghaith’s own testimony at the trial amounted to a confession, showing he had full knowledge of the terrorist group’s goals and was willing to advance them.
Taking the witness stand last week, Abu Ghaith recounted how he was summoned to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of Sept. 11. When the attacks came up in the conversation, bin Laden told him, “We are the ones who did it,” he testified.
“I want to deliver a message to the world. ... I want you to deliver that message,” Abu Ghaith said bin Laden told him.
In the recordings, Abu Ghaith claimed he was working off of talking points about al-Qaida’s agenda, and that he had no intention of recruiting fighters for the group — testimony Cronan called misleading.
“This man was not Osama bin Laden’s robot,” he said. “He was not his puppet. ... He was no accidental terrorist.”
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.