NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal jury in New York on Tuesday began deliberating whether or not to convict a son-in-law of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden of conspiring to kill Americans and other terrorism-related charges.
Prosecutors have accused Suleiman Abu Ghaith of acting as a spokesman and recruiter for al Qaeda in the days after the September 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York.
The 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born preacher is the highest-profile bin Laden adviser to face trial in a U.S. civilian court since the attacks. Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011 at his hideout in Pakistan. The purported mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured and is being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The surprise of Abu Ghaith’s three-week trial was his decision to testify in his own defense. Abu Ghaith denied that he knew of any plots against Americans or ever became a member of al Qaeda as the U.S. prosecutors charge.
Abu Ghaith acknowledged meeting with bin Laden in an Afghanistan cave hours after the September 11 attacks, where he said he first learned that al Qaeda was responsible. Abu Ghaith later married a daughter of bin Laden.
He would appear in several videos at bin Laden’s behest, including one filmed the following day, in which he told the United States that the attacks were a “natural” result of American foreign policy toward Muslims.
The U.S. government claimed that the videos served as recruiting tools and showed Abu Ghaith knew of al Qaeda’s plans to detonate a shoe bomb aboard an airplane, a plot that failed when Briton Richard Reid attempted it in December 2001.
“Sitting next to Osama bin Laden, Abu Ghaith spoke to the world,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said during his closing argument on Monday.
But Abu Ghaith’s lawyers have argued that mere “words and associations,” however offensive, are not enough to convict him.
“The videos do their job because they alarm you ... and that’s why they’re here,” defense lawyer Stanley Cohen said.
Abu Ghaith faces life in prison if convicted on the charges of conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide such support.
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 98-cr-01023.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Grant McCool