Sulaiman Abu Ghaith
March 26: Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the most senior adviser to Osama bin Laden to be tried in a civilian US court since the September 11, 2001, attacks, was convicted today of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.
Abu Ghaith, a 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born cleric known for his fiery oratory, had recorded impassioned speeches for Osama after September 11, in which he praised the attacks and promised that future attacks would be carried out.
The defendant, who married Osama’s daughter Fatima, unexpectedly took the witness stand last week, offering a vivid account of being summoned by Osama on the night of the attacks to meet him in his cave in the Afghan mountains.
“He said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ He said, ‘Did you learn about what happened?’” Abu Ghaith recalled the Qaida leader telling him.
Abu Ghaith said Osama claimed credit for the attacks and told him the next day that he wanted Abu Ghaith to help him “deliver a message to the world”.
The jury returned its verdict on its second day of deliberations in the trial, which had entered its third week in the US District Court in Manhattan. Abu Ghaith was convicted of three counts: conspiracy to kill Americans, for which he could face life in prison; and providing material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to do so, counts that each carry maximum terms of 15 years.
Abu Ghaith was asked to rise as the judge’s deputy clerk, Andrew Mohan, read the verdict aloud, and the defendant appeared impassive as the word “guilty” was repeated three times. His lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, said later that his client was stoic and “at ease”.
“He has confidence that this is not the end but the beginning,” Cohen said. The lawyer added that there were “a number of compelling issues” for appeal.
Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District, said in a statement: “Like the others who have faced terrorism charges in Manhattan’s federal courthouse before him, Abu Ghaith received a fair trial, after which a unanimous jury rendered its verdict, justly holding him accountable for his crimes.
“We hope this verdict brings some small measure of comfort to the families of the victims of al Qaida’s murderous designs,” Bharara added.
Abu Ghaith was captured last year and brought to the US on terrorism charges. His lawyers sought to portray their client as having had a minimal role in al Qaida, with no involvement or advance knowledge of any terrorist plot, planned or executed.
Cohen said his client had not always been speaking on behalf of al Qaida, and was rather fulfilling his responsibility as an imam.
But the prosecution repeatedly reminded the jury, often through photographs and videos, of how close Abu Ghaith had been to Osama, who was then the most wanted man on the planet.