US prosecutors on Monday linked Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law to the 2001 Al-Qaeda shoe bomber plot after adding two extra charges against the Kuwaiti, who faces life behind bars if convicted.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, whose trial in New York is scheduled to begin on February 3, was initially charged with one count of conspiracy to kill Americans after his arrest last February.
But a superceding indictment Friday added charges of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists.
The former Al-Qaeda spokesman, who was captured by US agents in Jordan, on Monday entered a not guilty plea to all charges.
He appeared relaxed, greeting his defense team with smiles and wearing a blue T-shirt over an orange standard-issue prison shirt, his salt and pepper curls escaping a white Muslim cap.
In court Monday, prosecutors alleged he was complicit in the December 2001 shoe bomber plot to bring down an airline flying from Paris to Miami just three months after the 9/11 attacks.
British Al-Qaeda recruit Richard Reid is serving a life sentence in the United States for trying to blow up the passenger jet using bombs hidden in his shoes.
The prosecution said that Abu Ghaith — appearing in a video in “October or November 2001” and warning of “an airplanes storm” — proved that he knew of the plot intercepted just a month later.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyer Stanley Cohen called for a 60-day delay to the start of the trial to prepare for claims that his client was “an active actor, planner and organizer in the Reid conspiracy”.
The defense previously denied that Abu Ghaith’s role as spokesman amounted to direct involvement in any plot to kill Americans.
Cohen also objected to the prosecution’s plan to bring a new witness to testify by video link in the case against Abu Ghaith.
He later identified the witness as Saajid Badat, who was convicted in Britain as a co-conspirator of Reid, and dubbed by British newspaper The Telegraph as a “terrorist supergrass”.
Judge Lewis Kaplan said he would hear the objections on January 7 but granted a request from the government for an anonymous jury.
He set aside January 22-23 for potential jurors to fill out questionnaires to determine their suitability to hear the case.
Cohen has been charged with failure to file tax returns and wire fraud, and has been indicted by another court in New York State.
Much of Monday’s hour-long hearing was devoted to Kaplan grilling Abu Ghaith on whether he wanted to retain Cohen as his lawyer and risk any potential conflict of interest in his defense.
The defendant said he understood the risks but wanted to keep Cohen, who has defended a series of Al-Qaeda suspects.
Abu Ghaith is best-known for his incendiary threats alongside bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
The US government accuses him of appearing in a video with them on September 12, 2001 calling on the “nation of Islam to do battle against the Jews, the Christians and the Americans”.
He allegedly defended the 9/11 attacks and warned Americans the “storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm.”
The indictment also accuses him of praising an April 2002 suicide bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia and “planning and perpetrating federal crimes of terrorism against the United States”.
In July, his defense had asked the court to throw out the charges against him, partly on the grounds he had been tortured on the flight that brought him to the United States.
The defense has argued Abu Ghaith has effectively been declared guilty — on the basis of his “mere association” with bin Laden.
Abu Ghaith left Afghanistan for Iran around the end of 2002 and was held there until travelling to Turkey in early 2013.
After being detained there, he was put on a plane to Kuwait but was arrested during a stopover in Jordan.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]