US jury convicts Osama bin Laden's son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith
Al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith narrated videos used to recruit followers to go on suicide missions after September 11 attacks
Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, the voice of fiery al-Qaeda propaganda videotapes after the September 11 attacks, was convicted yesterday of conspiring to kill Americans for his role as the terror group's spokesman.
The verdict came after about five hours of deliberation in the case against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil since the attacks.
The Kuwaiti imam had testified during a three-week trial that he answered bin Laden's request in the hours after the attacks to speak on the widely circulated videos used to recruit followers willing to go on suicide missions like the 19 who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001.
"The storm of airplanes will not stop," Abu Ghaith was heard warning in an October 2001 video that was played for the jury.
Also shown repeatedly to the jury during the trial were frames of a video made September 12, 2001, that showed Abu Ghaith seated next to bin Laden and two other top al-Qaeda leaders as they tried to justify the attacks.
Sentencing was set for September 8. The charges carry a potential penalty of life in prison.
During closing arguments, Assistant US Attorney John Cronan underscored the importance of Abu Ghaith's post-September 11 status.
"Going to that man was the very first thing Osama bin Laden did on September 11 after the terror attacks," he said. "The defendant committed himself to al-Qaeda's conspiracy to kill Americans, and he worked to drive other people to that conspiracy."
The jury returned a guilty verdict on three charges: conspiracy to kill Americans; conspiring to provide support to al-Qaeda; and providing support to al-Qaeda.
Captured in Jordan last year and brought to New York, Abu Ghaith has actively participated in his trial. He listened to testimony and arguments through headphones linked to an Arabic translator.
Taking the witness stand in his own defence, Abu Ghaith in a calm voice denied he was an al-Qaeda recruiter and claimed his role was a religious one aimed at encouraging all Muslims to rise up against their oppressors. He insisted he agreed to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of September 11 out of respect for bin Laden's standing as a sheik.
"Despite knowing that he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, you met with him to be polite, correct?" prosecutor Michael Ferrara asked on cross-examination.
"I didn't go to meet with him to bless if he had killed hundreds of Americans or not. I went to meet with him to know what he wanted," Abu Ghaith said.
Government witnesses included an FBI agent who interviewed Abu Ghaith on a 10-hour flight to the US.