The terrorism trial against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman abu Ghaith, begins Monday in New York City at a U.S. District courthouse, blocks from ground zero. Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al-Qaeda member to be tried in the U.S. since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Abu Ghaith, 48, is charged with conspiring to kill Americans after the 9/11 attacks. The trial, which begins jury selection this week, is possibly the only chance for New Yorkers to have a trial on their turf about the attacks. Other trials have been held at Guantánamo Bay, but the process there has been slow and many are still awaiting trial after 11 years in custody. So, when abu Ghaith was arrested last year, the Justice Department launched proceedings in New York that have moved swiftly.
Abu Ghaith is accused of being an Al Qaeda leader and calling for further attacks on the U.S. post-Sept. 11. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison for him with no parole. They chose not to seek the death penalty since he is not accused of directly planning or conducting acts of terrorism.
According to the U.S. government, abu Ghaith encouraged Muslims to battle the U.S. after the twin towers fell. He reportedly implored them to keep the storm of airplanes going on Oct. 9, 2001. Adding that Jihad is a duty, he noted that there are thousands of young people who are keen to die in their cause. In a propaganda video, abu Ghaith is sitting with Osama bin Laden and the current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The government evidence when the trial begins against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law includes a 22-page statement abu Ghaith gave the FBI en route to New York from Jordan. There are also recordings of rants calling for more terrorist attacks.
The defense’s star witness could be the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The defense team questioned Mohammed in writing, theorizing he would say abu Ghaith was merely a low-level al Qaeda member. Mohammed had previously submitted written statements that helped two other terrorism suspects, one who avoided the death penalty and another who was released. Mohammed reportedly provided a 14-page response to the abu Ghaith defense questions, but his lawyer did not turn it over. He was seeking a guarantee that military lawyers at Guantánamo would not have access to his statements.
In another defense setback, Salim Hamdan, who was bin Laden’s chauffeur, first agreed to testify for Abu Ghaith, but then changed his mind and will not participate in the trial. Hamdan was released from Guantánamo and is now living in Yemen.
The Kuwaiti-born Abu Ghaith’s wife is bin Laden’s daughter, Fatima. She is the eldest of two dozen children reportedly fathered by bin Laden. In 2000, abu Ghaith was an imam at a Kuwaiti mosque and taught religion classes in a high school. He lived in Afghanistan for two years, before entering Iran in 2002, where he was arrested and interrogated extensively. Abu Ghaith was released from Iranian custody on Jan. 11, 2013. When he subsequently entered Turkey, he was detained and interrogated before they released him on Feb. 28, 2013. He was then heading home to his family in Kuwait. Instead, his flight landed in Amman, Jordan. He was turned over to U.S. authorities, who then began prepping for the trial against Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, which begins Monday.
By Dyanne Weiss