Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, said the September 11, 2001 attacks were al-Qaeda’s doing and called on others to fight for the group, a prosecutor told jurors at the start of his trial in New York.
A Kuwaiti, 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 the World Trade Center, which stood just blocks from the courthouse where his trial began on Wednesday.
Reuters news agency reported that Nicholas Lewin, an assistant US attorney, told the jury during his opening statement that Abu Ghaith “sat at the right hand of Osama bin Laden” after the attacks and bin Laden “asked him to deliver al Qaeda’s murderous decree to the whole world.”
You've just been to the movies, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon ... At the end of the day, there is really no evidence.
Lewin, pointing at Abu Ghaith, said: “What did the defendant do? He agreed.”
A lawyer for Abu Ghaith told the Manhattan federal court jury that the US government had “no evidence” his client was aware of plots against Americans.
Abu Ghaith is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support and resources to terrorists. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyer, Stanley Cohen, warned jurors that the government would try to overwhelm them with videos and questionable witnesses and said there was no evidence against his client.
“You’ve just been to the movies, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon,” Cohen said in his opening statement.
Cohen said Abu Ghaith was a “talker” and an ideologue whose recorded statements will horrify jurors and make them “flinch.”
But after accumulating “millions of documents” and conducting thousands of interviews over a 13-year investigation, the government cannot prove that Abu Ghaith was aware of any plots against the United States, Cohen said.
“At the end of the day, there is really no evidence,” Cohen said. “There is the substitution of evidence with fright.”
Specifically, the government contends Abu Ghaith spent time in Afghanistan with bin Laden soon after the attacks and recorded several statements threatening further attacks against Americans, including one that said “the storm of airplanes will not stop.”
Lewin said the government would introduce testimony via video feed from a former al-Qaeda member in Britain that Abu Ghaith was aware in advance of the group’s failed attempt to blow up airplanes with explosives hidden in shoes.
The witness is expected to be Saajid Badat, who plotted with Richard Reid, the man who became known as the shoe bomber after his attempt to detonate explosives on a flight to Miami in 2002.
Reid, a Briton, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in a US court. Badat did not follow through with the plan but was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the plot.
While Cohen did not name Badat, he attacked his credibility, saying he was a “mass murderer wannabe” who is under indictment in the United States.
“They sit around, the good old boys, and talk, and he tells them what they want,” Cohen said.