NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors in New York say that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti imam known for his fiery preaching, moved to Afghanistan in spring 2001 to join Osama bin Laden's inner circle. He visited terror training camps there, they said, to rally fighters.
Hours after the September 11 terror attacks, they say, he appeared next to Osama bin Laden in a video that celebrated the attacks and urged Muslims around the world to pick up arms to fight "the friends of Satan."
Over the next year, said prosecutor Nicholas Lewin, Abu Ghaith made more videos seeking new recruits for al-Qaida - its "lifeblood" - and threatening further attacks, including what he called a "storm of airplanes," against Britain and the United States.
Abu Ghaith, who is married to the eldest daughter of Osama bin Laden, Fatima, is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to al-Qaida. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Abu Ghaith's defense attorneys say the case is only about words and associations. Attorney Stanley Cohen called Abu Ghaith a "Muslim, an Arab, a husband, and a father." He added that while the defendant had said "terrible" things that would outrage the jury, the only correct verdict was not guilty.
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security, said attorneys on both sides had agreed not to mention that Abu Ghaith was a son-in-law of bin Laden.
"Part of this is going to hinge on how close he was to bin Laden, which is what the prosecution opened with today, and so having that taken away, it's one piece of how close he was to Bin Laden," she said.
Abu Ghaith, who pleaded not guilty a year ago, is not accused of involvement or advance knowledge in the September 11 attacks. Defense lawyers have said they may seek testimony by the self-admitted plotter of the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being held in the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to vouch that Abu Ghaith was not an al-Qaida operative.
Abu Ghaith was brought to New York from Jordan last year, after having lived in Iran for much of the last decade. Prosecutors plan to play for jurors a confession he reportedly made on the flight, but defense attorney Cohen has said the statement was made only after Abu Ghaith "was subjected to a variety of deprivation techniques and harsh treatment which constitute torture."
The jury of nine women and three men will also hear testimony from two cooperating witnesses, including a British man, Saajid Badat, who will testify in a video feed about plotting with "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. Reid's failed attempt came several weeks after Abu Ghaith made a video saying,"We strongly advise Muslims in America and Britain not to board airplanes," prosecutors said.
The other is a man who will testify about hearing Abu Ghaith call for jihad in Afghanistan. Officials say he is the highest-ranking bin Laden associate yet to be tried in the U.S.