Bin Laden Son-in-Law Seeks to Avoid Possible Life Term

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, the most senior al-Qaeda member to be tried in a U.S. civilian court, compared himself to a shock radio host to argue he doesn’t deserve a possible life sentence.

Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, 48, was found guilty in March of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and a scheme to help attract recruits to the terrorist group by serving as its spokesman. He said in a court filing today that his sentence should be no more than 15 years.

There isn’t any evidence Abu Ghayth knowingly participated in any scheme to kill U.S. nationals, Stanley Cohen, his lawyer, said in the filing. Abu Ghayth’s role was “entirely speech based” and must be placed in the historical context of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Cohen said.

“The defendant faces the harshest of penalties for talk -- and only talk -- which is at times zealous, pious and devout, at other times intemperate; at still others, offensive to the core values of humanity,” Cohen said. “In this sense, he was not unlike an outrageous daytime ‘shock-radio’ host or a World War II radio propagandist for a losing ideology -- his conduct takes place within the realm of mass media dissemination of information to the public.”

Cohen compared Abu Ghayth to Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua, saying he was swept up in a “revolutionary moment.”

Maximum Term

The conspiracy to kill Americans charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Abu Ghayth is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23 by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan.

Jennifer Queliz, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, declined to comment on today’s filing. Prosecutors haven’t submitted their sentencing memo.

During the trial, Abu Ghayth was portrayed by prosecutors as an “essential” member of al-Qaeda as a spokesman for the group in numerous videos made after the attacks. The government alleged he had advance knowledge of other plots, including a foiled scheme to detonate shoe bombs on passenger jets, for which Richard Reid was convicted of terrorism.

Abu Ghayth, an Islamic cleric originally from Kuwait, testified in his own defense during the trial that he didn’t play any role in terrorist plots. He insisted that when he preached to recruits at an al-Qaeda training camp in 2001 at bin Laden’s request, he urged them to have “merciful hearts.” His lawyers claimed the government didn’t prove that he was involved in planning the Sept. 11 attacks or knew of the shoe-bomb plot.

Prison Marriage

Cohen said today that his client was imprisoned in Iran for 10 years, beginning in 2002. He married bin Laden’s daughter Fatima while they were being held in a Iranian jail, he said..

Jurors heard recordings and saw videotapes of Abu Ghayth warning of more attacks against the U.S. One video viewed by the jury was made on Sept. 12, 2001, and shows Abu Ghayth 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.

“America must be ready and stand by and let them fasten their seatbelt, as we will strike them -- by the permission of Allah the glorified and the almighty -- where they least expect it,” Abu Ghayth said in that recording.

The U.S. alleged that by willingly agreeing on Sept. 11, 2001, to speak on behalf of al-Qaeda in statements and videos to help attract new recruits and suicide bombers, Abu Ghayth joined the conspiracy to kill Americans.

Because his statements also incited others to join as suicide bombers, Abu Ghayth provided material support to the terror group, prosecutors said. He was captured by American agents after a decade-long manhunt and is regarded as among the group’s most influential surviving leaders after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May 2011.

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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