Prosecutors in the case of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law can show jurors an image of him seated next to the al-Qaeda leader from a video taken the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a judge ruled.
Jury selection began yesterday in federal court in Manhattan in the case of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, 48, the highest ranking al-Qaeda member to be tried in a U.S. civilian court. The U.S. alleges Abu Ghayth served alongside bin Laden, appearing with him and bin Laden’s then-deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and speaking on behalf of the terrorist organization and plotting to kill Americans.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan granted prosecutors permission to show the screen shot taken from a Sept. 12, 2001, video that shows four men seated in front of a rocky outcrop. Abu Ghayth is seated to bin Laden’s right, al-Zawahiri is to bin Laden’s left, and the picture includes another unidentified man.
In the video, Abu Ghayth warned more attacks were imminent, according to the U.S. He advised Muslims, children and opponents of the U.S. “not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises,” the government said. The U.S. said that, after his arrest, Abu Ghayth admitted he’s the person in the video.
“A great army is gathering against you,” Abu Ghayth said in the video, according to prosecutors. He also called upon Muslims to “do battle against the Jews, the Christians and the Americans,” according to a translation of a statement contained in Abu Ghayth’s indictment.
Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti who was captured in Jordan, was brought to the U.S. for trial last year. Prosecutors say he took an oath of loyalty to al-Qaeda in mid-2001. He’s charged with two counts of conspiracy and providing material support to al-Qaeda in a global plot to kill U.S. nationals. Abu Ghayth, who’s pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison if convicted.
During the first day of trial, Abu Ghayth, who was dressed in an oversized tan wool suit, dress shirt and tie, was introduced to a panel of about 40 potential jurors. Kaplan questioned prospective jurors about their views on terrorism as well as whether any of them had been affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.
Abu Ghayth is accused of conspiring with bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members in multiple plots, including a foiled scheme to blow up passenger jets. Abu Ghayth is by the U.S. as among the group’s most influential surviving leaders after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May 2011.
His lawyers lost a bid last week to argue that prosecutors have charged the wrong man and that the government’s evidence pertains to a detainee at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a similar name. Defense lawyers also sought a bid to obtain the testimony of the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as part of his defense case.
Stanley Cohen, a lawyer for Abu Ghayth, argued that Mohammed is “the most qualified person alive” to tell jurors whether Abu Ghayth had advance knowledge of any al-Qaeda plots, was part of a conspiracy or was a member of al-Qaeda. Mohammed is being held at Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial before a military tribunal.
Cohen told the judge at a Feb. 28 hearing that Mohammed gave a 14-page statement in response to questions submitted by Abu Ghayth’s defense team. Mohammed’s lawyer, David Nevin, then refused to release the document to him because U.S. intelligence agencies also sought access to it, Cohen said.
The judge ruled that during the trial, jurors will be anonymous to the public, kept together during meals and recesses and escorted to and from the courthouse by U.S. Marshals. The process has been used in other trials. The judge said he’s summoned another group of panelists who will be questioned today and said opening statements may be heard as early as tomorrow.
Prosecutors allege Abu Ghayth had advance knowledge of several plots, including the attempt by Richard Reid to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a trans-Atlantic flight in December 2001.
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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