NEW YORK (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Suleiman Abu Ghaith, on trial in New York, had no role in al Qaeda military operations, said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, according to court documents filed late on Sunday.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers submitted Mohammed’s responses to their written questions along with a request to allow his testimony at the nearly two-week-old jury trial at which Abu Ghaith is charged with conspiring to kill Americans.
The U.S. government contends that Abu Ghaith, 48, became a leader of al Qaeda militants after the September 11, 2001, attacks as a spokesman and recruiter of fighters, and that he knew of planned attacks against the United States.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers argue there is no evidence that he knew of future attacks.
Mohammed, who is being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Abu Ghaith “was not a military man and had nothing to do with military operations,” according to the defense filings.
On the strength of Mohammed’s remarks, Abu Ghaith’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, presiding over his trial, to order Mohammed’s testimony be taken via live closed circuit television, or that his testimony be preserved through deposition.
“Mr. Mohammed is unavailable to physically appear at trial, and his testimony is necessary to prevent a failure of justice in this matter,” the lawyers, led by Stanley Cohen, wrote to the judge.
JUDGE: ‘DEEPLY SKEPTICAL’
In February, Kaplan briefly delayed Abu Ghaith’s trial so his lawyers could submit written questions to Mohammed. But Kaplan said he was “deeply skeptical” the lawyers had a right to access to Mohammed.
Abu Ghaith is also accused of providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists. Abu Ghaith has pleaded not guilty, and faces life in prison if convicted.
According to the new court documents, Mohammed also said individuals involved in al Qaeda media operations would not have prior knowledge of coming attacks and Mohammed never told Abu Ghaith anything about the shoe bomb plot attempted aboard a plane by Briton Richard Reid in late 2001.
The Manhattan U.S. prosecutor’s office, which is leading the case, argues that Abu Ghaith knew of the shoe bomb plot. It has shown jurors videos from October 2001 in which Abu Ghaith warned that, “The storm of airplanes will not stop.”
“The operations which the leadership intends to undertake and the plans for them are known only to the leader of the operation and the military and security officials involved,” Mohammed said, according to the court filing.
The Manhattan U.S. prosecutor’s office, which rested its case on Friday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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.
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 Howard Goller and Eric Walsh