Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law willingly agreed on Sept. 11, 2001, to speak on behalf of al-Qaeda in statements and videos to help attract new recruits and suicide bombers, a prosecutor told a federal jury in New York.
Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, 48, was an “essential” member of al-Qaeda while acting as a spokesman in numerous videos in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks involving 19 hijackers, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said during the trial’s closing arguments. Abu Ghayth, who took the stand in his own defense last week and denied wrongdoing, helped al-Qaeda “drive” new recruits to join its quest to kill U.S. nationals, Cronan said.
Abu Ghayth, a Kuwaiti who is the most senior al-Qaeda member to be tried in a U.S. civilian court since the terrorist attacks, provided material support to the group by acting as a spokesman and preaching at camps, Cronan said. He said Abu Ghayth also had advance knowledge of terrorism plots, including a foiled scheme to detonate shoe bombs on passenger jets that included convicted terrorist Richard Reid.
“Al-Qaeda needed to send a message that the attacks of Sept. 11 were justified, that the United States got what it deserved,” Cronan told the jury. “A message that would encourage al-Qaeda’s fighters. A message that would help replenish al-Qaeda’s new crop of suicide bombers. So just hours after four planes came crashing into our country, amid al-Qaeda’s savage success and the utter chaos of that terrible day, Osama bin Laden turned to this man,” the prosecutor said, pointing at Abu Ghayth in court.
Abu Ghayth, who has pleaded not guilty, is charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, of a scheme to provide material support and resources to al-Qaeda and a third count of providing manpower and resources to the group by winning new recruits in speeches he made.
Stanley Cohen, a lawyer for Abu Ghayth, told jurors in his closing argument today that his client wasn’t involved in planning the Sept. 11 attacks and said prosecutors were trying to sway them by invoking bin Laden’s name dozens of times.
“The government’s summation was designed to sweep you away in anguish and pain and look away from the lack of evidence in this case,” Cohen said.
Cohen argued the government failed to prove that his client was aware of the foiled shoe-bomb plot. He said that when Saajid Badat, a U.K. man who admitted being part of that al-Qaeda plot, was shown a photo of his client, he failed to recognize Abu Ghayth while he had identified many top al-Qaeda officials.
“There’s no proof he recruited fighters, there’s no evidence that Sulaiman Abu Ghayth was involved in recruiting fighters before Sept. 11,” Cohen said. “There’s no evidence he was at the top of al-Qaeda before Sept. 11 and not a shred of evidence, not a single drop of evidence, that Sulaiman Abu Ghayth knew anything about the Saajid Badat and Richard Reid conspiracy.”
Cronan, the prosecutor, noted that Abu Ghayth appeared on several videos speaking on behalf of al-Qaeda, including a Sept. 12, 2001, video alongside bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy, and Abu Hafs al-Masry, head of al-Qaeda’s military operations, as bin Laden took credit for the attacks.
He said bin Laden had summoned Abu Ghayth to a cave in a mountainous area of Afghanistan hours after the attacks and that the defendant had readily agreed to speak out, condemning the U.S. and promising more attacks were imminent. While the defendant claimed during his testimony that he was only using “talking points” provided to him by bin Laden, Cronan said jurors could infer he was aware of the terror group’s message and intent.
‘Storm of Airplanes’
“He sat there and announced ‘We are capable of continuing the path, we are capable of continuing the confrontation,’” Cronan said. “Who do you think ‘we’ is? The terrorist leader of a terrorist organization is sitting next to Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, it’s the organization that committed the terrorist attacks in the U.S. a few hours earlier.”
He cited several speeches that Abu Ghayth delivered, including at October 2001 statement in which he warned that al-Qaeda promised a “storm of airplanes” was coming. Cronan said Abu Ghayth’s statements indicate he was aware of the al-Qaeda shoe bomb plot involving Reid.
The prosecutor pointed to testimony by Sahim Alwan, a Yemeni-American man who traveled to Afghanistan in April 2001 and who told jurors that he’d seen Abu Ghayth speaking and preaching to recruits at an al-Qaeda guest house in Afghanistan.
“Al-Qaeda can’t replenish itself unless it has authority figures like this man, this sheikh, to incite new suicide operations and justify al-Qaeda’s missions,” Cronan said. “Without men like him, al-Qaeda dies every time there’s a suicide attack.”
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who’s presiding over the case, told jurors to return to court tomorrow, when he’ll instruct them on the law before they begin deliberations.
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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