NEW YORK (AP) — Osama bin Laden's son-in-law went on trial Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, where jurors heard him portrayed both as a murderous mouthpiece for al-Qaida and as a target of a prosecution designed to play on fears and resentments from the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin told the jury that bin Laden had summoned Sulaiman Abu Ghaith on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, and asked him to use his oratory skills as the public face of al-Qaida to recruit and inspire recruits to attack the United States again. Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to face trial on U.S. soil since suicide attackers struck the city's twin towers.
"While our buildings still burned, he agreed ... in what is the most important moment in al-Qaida's savage history," Lewin said, showing jurors a photo of Abu Ghaith sitting side-by-side with bin Laden in Afghanistan on Sept. 12, 2001. "He invoked his twisted view of Islam and declared, 'Fight thee against the friends of Satan. Fight with al-Qaida against America.'"
Defense attorney Stanley Cohen countered by pointing out that Lewin referenced the Sept. 11 attack several times in his opening, even though his client wasn't involved in the plot.
"This is not Osama bin Laden," Cohen said, pointing to Abu Ghaith. "This is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a Muslim, an Arab from Kuwait, a husband, a father, an imam, a talker, an ideologue."
The defendant, who wore a suit and tie to court, listened through an Arabic interpreter and occasionally took notes.
Abu Ghaith, 48, a onetime imam at a Kuwaiti mosque, was brought to New York from Turkey last year. He has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks and provided material support and resources to a terrorist organization. Born in Kuwait, he is married to bin Laden's eldest daughter, Fatima.