US court convicts bin Laden's son-in-law on terrorism charges
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A US court convicted former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law on Wednesday in connection with his role in producing propaganda videos aimed at luring new terrorist recruits in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The jury found Sulaiman Abu Ghaith – the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to face charges on US soil for the attacks – guilty on three charges: conspiracy to kill Americans, providing support to al Qaeda and conspiring to provide support to al Qaeda.
Abu Ghaith had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
The Kuwaiti imam testified during his three-week-long trial that he complied with a request from bin Laden to record videos for use in recruiting new followers for suicide missions like those that saw 19 al Qaeda followers use hijacked planes to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“The storm of airplanes will not stop,” Abu Ghaith was heard warning in an October 2001 video, which was played for the jury.
Also shown to the jury were frames of a video made on September 12, 2001, that showed Abu Ghaith seated next to bin Laden and two other top al Qaeda leaders as they discussed the attacks.
During closing arguments on Monday, Assistant US Attorney John Cronan emphasised the importance of Abu Ghaith’s role in the terrorist group.
“Going to that man was the very first thing Osama bin Laden did on September 11 after the terror attacks,” he said. “The defendant committed himself to al Qaeda’s conspiracy to kill Americans, and he worked to drive other people to that conspiracy.”
Cronan continued: “During the most important period of time in al Qaeda’s savage history, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was Osama bin Laden’s principal messenger. ... He used his fiery oratory to incite al Qaeda’s growing army of terror in this war with America.”
Captured in Jordan last year and brought to New York, Abu Ghaith has actively participated in his trial. He listened to testimony and arguments through headphones linked to an Arabic translator.
Taking the witness stand in his own defense, Abu Ghaith calmly denied that he was an al Qaeda recruiter and claimed his role was a religious one, aimed at encouraging all Muslims to rise up against their oppressors. He said he agreed to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of September 11 out of respect for bin Laden’s standing as a sheik.
“Despite knowing that he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, you met with him to be polite, correct?” prosecutor Michael Ferrara asked on cross-examination.
“I didn’t go to meet with him to bless if he had killed hundreds of Americans or not. I went to meet with him to know what he wanted,” Abu Ghaith said.
Abu Ghaith’s defense lawyer, Stanley Cohen, argued there was “zero evidence” that the 48-year-old former teacher knew of the conspiracies the government claimed he knew about. Citing the videos of his client, Cohen warned jurors not to let prosecutors “intimidate you and to frighten you into returning verdicts not based upon evidence, but fear”.
Those videos, though, emerged as the centrepiece of the government’s case. One, entitled the “Convoy of Martyrs”, featured Abu Ghaith preaching over footage of a plane flying into one of the World Trade Center towers. Another showed the defendant looking at bin Laden admiringly as the al Qaeda leader boasted that he knew the attack would make both towers fall.
Abu Ghaith's sentencing was set for September 8. The charges carry a potential penalty of life in prison. His attorney has vowed to appeal.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)