NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawyer for Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden on trial for conspiring to kill Americans, tried to discredit a U.S. government witness on Tuesday, portraying the former jihadi as more interested in saving himself than in preventing horrific attacks.
The witness, Saajid Badat, admittedly plotted with shoe bomber Richard Reid, who attempted to detonate explosives on a flight to Miami in December 2001.
Badat has since renounced terrorism and cooperated with authorities in the United Kingdom and United States, where Abu Ghaith is on trial in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors say Abu Ghaith was among top Qaeda leaders, serving as a spokesman and recruiter after the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked jets on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
On Monday, Badat testified via video from an undisclosed location in the United Kingdom that he was plotting with the shoe bomber soon after 9/11, around the same time Abu Ghaith recorded videos warning of more airplane attacks.
Badat, 34, said he left the shoe bomber plot. But on Tuesday, he acknowledged under questioning that even after he withdrew, he did not alert authorities of Reid’s plan.
“It was okay for Richard Reid to kill, but not you?” asked Stanley Cohen, a lawyer for Abu Ghaith. Cohen was also speaking from the United Kingdom.
“It wasn’t okay for anyone to do that,” said Badat, lowering his voice. “I wasn’t feeling right at the time.”
Prosecutors contend that Abu Ghaith knew of the shoe-bomber plot, though Badat said on Monday he never spoke to Abu Ghaith about the plot and did not know if Abu Ghaith was aware of it.
On Tuesday, Cohen repeatedly asked Badat if he ever met Abu Ghaith at any of the Al Qaeda training camps or guest houses where he stayed in Afghanistan. Badat said multiple times that he had “no specific recollection” of meeting Abu Ghaith.
A native of Gloucester, England, Badat was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the shoe bomber plot after pleading guilty in Britain to conspiring to harm an aircraft. His sentence was later reduced for his cooperation with U.K. and U.S. authorities and he has since been released from prison.
On Tuesday, Cohen sought to portray Badat as someone willing to testify in terrorism-related trials to prevent his extradition to the United States, where he is under indictment for his role in the shoe bomber plot. Cohen asked Badat if he believed U.S. law enforcement would refrain from bringing him to the United States as long as he cooperated with them.
“That’s not my belief,” Badat said.
Though it did not appear to have any direct bearing on Abu Ghaith’s trial, Badat’s testimony provided chilling details about life as an Qaeda operative.
In a December 2001 trip to Pakistan with Reid, Badat testified, he provided a shoe bomb to a group of four or five Malaysians involved in a separate plot, one of whom, he said, was a pilot.
“I think it was to access the cockpit, if that was proven to be difficult,” Badat said, when asked why he gave a shoe bomb to the Malaysians. It was unclear what became of that Malaysian plot.
Badat also testified that bin Laden once asked him in a one-on-one meeting in late September or early October 2001 if he grasped the significance of the shoe bomber plot.
“The American economy is like a chain,” Badat said bin Laden told him. “If you break one link, you will bring down the American economy.”
Abu Ghaith is on trial for conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists. He faces life in prison.
The trial resumes on Thursday and is expected to conclude by the end of March.
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 Eric Effron and David Gregorio