Prosecutors rest case in conspiracy trial of bin Laden son-in-law
By Bernard Vaughan
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Prosecutors in New York on Friday rested their case in the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who is accused of conspiring to kill Americans when he acted as a spokesman for al Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers are expected to present their case next week. But they will ask presiding U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan over the weekend for an order permitting them to introduce evidence from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which would require a slight delay, according to Stanley Cohen, one of the lawyers.
The judge previously said he was “deeply skeptical” the lawyers have a right to access Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, who is being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cohen said Mohammad has responded to written questions that could help his client.
“I think the case has proven exactly what we predicted it would be at the opening,” Cohen said. “There’s some ugly words and bad associations and no evidence of a knowing conspiracy to murder Americans.”
The U.S. government contends that Abu Ghaith, 48, became a leader in al Qaeda after 9/11 as a recruiter of fighters, and that he knew of planned attacks against the United States.
Abu Ghaith is also charged with providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists.
Federal prosecutors showed jurors videos in which Abu Ghaith, on at least one occasion in the company of bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, praised the attacks of 9/11, called on other Muslims to join the fight and warned of more attacks.
In a video from October 2001, Abu Ghaith claimed: “There are thousands of young Muslims who look forward to die for the sake of Allah,” and that “The storm of airplanes will not stop.”
Michael Butsch, an FBI agent who questioned Abu Ghaith after his arrest last year, testified that Abu Ghaith admitted he made an agreement with bin Laden to record propaganda videos following 9/11. However, Butsch also said Abu Ghaith told him he declined to become an official member of al Qaeda.
To buttress the argument that Abu Ghaith was in fact privy to the impending attacks, the government also called as a witness Saajid Badat, a British citizen who testified via live video feed from the United Kingdom.
Badat said he was plotting with fellow Briton Richard Reid to detonate shoe bombs aboard domestic U.S. flights around the same time Abu Ghaith was warning of more airplane attacks.
Badat, 34, said he pulled out of the plan after his parents confronted him. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty in Britain to conspiring to harm an aircraft. His sentence was later reduced for his cooperation with British and U.S. authorities and he has since been released from prison.
Badat acknowledged under questioning, however, that he never spoke to Abu Ghaith about the plot and said he did not know if Abu Ghaith was aware of it.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers seized on the seeming disconnect in their cross-examination, during which they suggested Badat was testifying in part to prevent his extradition to the United States, where he is also under indictment for the shoe bomber plot.
Abu Ghaith is one of the highest-ranking figures linked to al Qaeda to face a civilian jury on terrorism-related charges since the attacks that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center, which stood just blocks from the courthouse where he is on trial. He faces life in prison if convicted.
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 98-cr-01023.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by David Gregorio)