Osama bin Laden son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith goes on trial in NYC

1:43 PM, Mar 3, 2014   |    comments
Security guards stand outside Federal Court as the trial for Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, begins on March 3, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (CBS News) -- Jury selection got underway Monday in the terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law on charges that he conspired to kill Americans as al Qaeda's spokesman after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the attacks, listened to an interpreter as Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan began questioning prospective jurors. Many of about two dozen people who claimed hardships said long commutes to court would make it too difficult for them to serve.

Opening statements are expected to begin later this week.

Prosecutors will try to prove to the anonymous jury that the one-time terrorist network spokesman tried to rally others to kill Americans.

Prosecutors plan to show jurors during their opening statement a picture of Abu Ghaith seated with bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders on the day after Sept. 11, 2001, as they make statements about the attacks. They say Abu Ghaith described the circumstances of the filming in his post-arrest statement.

Prosecution evidence also will include post-9/11 videos in which the charismatic bearded man promises more attacks on the United States as devastating as those that destroyed the World Trade Center.

"The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life," Abu Ghaith said in an Oct. 9, 2001, speech.

In one widely circulated propaganda video, Abu Ghaith can be seen sitting with bin Laden and current al-Qaedaleader Ayman al-Zawahri against a rocky backdrop.

Defense lawyers for the balding and bearded defendant asserted last week that some of the government's evidence relates to a detainee at Guantanamo Bay with a similar name to Abu Ghaith rather than to the defendant, who has pleaded not guilty. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on Friday called the mistaken identity claim "utterly meritless."

Abu Ghaith's attorneys are also trying to enlist help from professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed to bolster the case for acquittal, though it hasn't come fast enough for them to gain permission from Kaplan for Mohammed to testify, perhaps through a video link to Guantanamo Bay. If convicted, Abu Ghaith could face life in prison.

Defense attorneys said Friday that Mohammed had provided a 14-page response to written questions, but his lawyer was refusing to turn it over unless there was a guarantee that military lawyers at Guantanamo wouldn't review it. The judge refused to consider the matter further.

The Kuwaiti-born defendant was flown to the United States a year ago from Jordan, where he was captured as he headed to Kuwait, which had revoked his citizenship after 9/11.

The CIA's Bin Laden group was able to track Abu Ghaith's movements to a luxury hotel in downtown Ankara. Abu Ghaith hoped to get help from the al Qaeda network to move to another country, but the CIA was working with the MIT, Turkey's national intelligence service, and they arrested Abu Ghaith.

While in Turkish custody, he was interrogated by a U.S. multi-agency group known as the High-Value Interrogation Group, or the HIG. They gathered hours of intelligence from Abu Ghaith which was eventually summarized in a 22-page document.

In an affidavit filed last year as he tried to suppress the 22-page statement he made to authorities, Abu Ghaith said he left Afghanistan in 2002 and entered Iran, where he was arrested and held in prisons and interrogated extensively.

Abu Ghaith said he was released from Iranian custody on Jan. 11, 2013, when he entered Turkey, where he was detained and interrogated before his Feb. 28, 2013, release. He said he was heading home to Kuwait on a plane to see family when the flight landed instead in Amman, Jordan, where he was handcuffed and turned over to American authorities.

Abu Ghaith is married to bin Laden's eldest daughter, Fatima, one of nearly two dozen children bin Laden was believed to have fathered before he was killed in Pakistan by U.S. special forces in 2011.

Before heading to Afghanistan in 2000, Abu Ghaith was an imam at a Kuwaiti mosque and taught high school religion classes.


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