The voice of the al-Qaida propaganda videos and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was convicted Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans as evidenced in his role as the terror group’s spokesman.
After two days of deliberating, the jury returned the guilty verdict, which had entered its third week in United States District Court in Manhattan. Ghaith was convicted of three counts: conspiracy to kill Americans, for which he could face life in prison; and providing material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to do so, counts that each carry maximum terms of 15 years.
In a surprising turn, Ghaith testified that he answered bin Laden’s request in the hours after the attacks, to speak on the widely circulated videos that were also used to recruit new followers willing to go on suicide missions, like the 19 who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001.
Ghaith, a 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born cleric known for his fiery speeches, had recorded speeches for Bin Laden after Sept. 11, where he praised the attacks and promised that future attacks would be carried out.
His testimony also gave a vivid account of being requested by Bin Laden to meet with him in his cave in the Afghan mountains on the night of the attacks.
“He said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ Laden said, ‘Did you learn about what happened?’ Ghaith recalled the Qaeda leader telling him.
Ghaith said Bin Laden claimed credit for the attacks and told him the next day that he wanted him to help him “deliver a message to the world.”
Ghaith, who later married Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima, was captured last year and brought to the United States on terrorism charges. Although his attorneys tried to portray their client as being minimally involved in al Qaeda, and no involvement or advance knowledge of any terrorist plot, planned or executed, the evidence was clear.
Ghaith’s lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, in his closing argument on Monday, said his client had not always been speaking on behalf of Al Qaeda, and was rather fulfilling his responsibility as an imam.
“You saw videos from a theologian,” Mr. Cohen said. “These words and these concepts may be offensive to you. They may disgust you. But you are going to have to decide the context.”
But the prosecution repeatedly reminded the jury, displaying proof through photographs and videos, of how close Ghaith had been to Bin Laden.
The prosecution showed the jury a video screen shot of Ghaith that was made on Sept. 12, 2001, as he sat beside Bin Laden and two other Al Qaeda leaders.
“Sulaiman Abu Ghaith literally sat at Osama bin Laden’s right hand,” a prosecutor, John P. Cronan, said in his closing argument.
He cited one video, made on Oct. 9, 2001, where Ghaith warned that “the storm of airplanes will not abate,” and that there were thousands of Muslim youths who were yearning for death, “just as the Americans yearn to live.”
That message, Cronan said, was meant not only to terrorize Americans, but also “to drive more suicide terrorists to Al Qaeda.”
Image via NDN