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Bin Laden’s son-in-law testifies about 9/11

  • Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara (L), is seen in a courtroom drawing cross examining Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith (C) as an old video recording of Abu Ghaith is played in federal court in New York March 19, 2014. (REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg)

NEW YORK: Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law offered a rare glimpse of the Al-Qaeda leader in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, recounting during surprise testimony Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom how the two met that night in a cave in Afghanistan.

The testimony came as Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s trial on charges he conspired to kill Americans and aid Al-Qaeda as a spokesman for the terrorist group took a dramatic turn. His decision to take the witness stand was announced by his lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who surprised a nearly empty courtroom that quickly filled with spectators as word spread.

“Did you learn about what happened ... the attacks on the United States?” the son-in-law recalled bin Laden asking him.

“We are the ones who did it.”

Abu Ghaith testified that bin Laden seemed worried that night and asked what he thought would happen next. Abu Ghaith said he predicted America “will not settle until it accomplishes two things: to kill you and topple the state of the Taliban.”

Bin Laden responded “‘You’re being too pessimistic,’” Abu Ghaith recalled.

Bin Laden then offered the onetime imam a job that would gain him infamy as well as a place in the inner circle of the world’s most wanted terrorist. “I want to deliver a message to the world,” Abu Ghaith said bin Laden told him. “I want you to deliver that message.”

The testimony was a rare gambit by the defense, a last-ditch effort to counter a mountain of evidence against Abu Ghaith, including an alleged confession and videos showing him sitting beside Bin Laden on Sept. 12, 2001, and another in which he warned Americans that “the storm of airplanes will not abate.” The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator and had no role in plotting more attacks.

On cross examination, though, Abu Ghaith admitted that he sent his pregnant wife, six daughters and a son to Kuwait while he went to Afghanistan on Sept. 7, 2001, after hearing inside and outside Al-Qaeda training camps that something big was going to happen soon.

“I had heard something would happen, but I didn’t know what,” he said, responding to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara’s questions.

Lacing some questions with sarcasm, Ferrara took particular aim at Abu Ghaith’s claims that he was merely embellishing bin Laden’s “bullet points” on videotapes as he condemned America. And Abu Ghaith’s testimony also gave the prosecutor an opportunity to again show video clips of Abu Ghaith angrily denouncing America and of the second plane hitting a World Trade Center tower on Sept. 11.

Ferrera mocked Abu Ghaith’s statement that he stayed and helped bin Laden for two weeks after Sept. 11 because the conditions in Afghanistan were tense and he had no way to travel.

“You are telling this jury that you made a speech in which you called on people to terrorize the infidels because you didn’t have a personal car?” he said, drawing from one juror a smile and a nod to a fellow juror.

“I don’t understand the question,” Abu Ghaith responded.

Testifying through an Arabic interpreter, the 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born defendant looked relaxed when he first took the stand, wearing a blue shirt, open at the collar, beneath a charcoal-colored jacket.

He testified that he first met bin Laden when the Al-Qaeda leader, who was living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, summoned him in June 2001 after hearing he was a preacher from Kuwait. He took bin Laden’s daughter as an additional wife years after 9/11.

Abu Ghaith said bin Laden explained that the Al-Qaeda training camps involved so much weapons training and a rough, hard life that he wanted him to give the recruits merciful hearts. He also testified he knew bin Laden was suspected in terrorist attacks but still “wanted to get to know that person.”

The defendant also said that videos he made warning of more attacks on Americans were based on “quotes and points by Sheikh Osama.” He testified that his videotaped sermons were religious in nature and meant to encourage Muslims to fight oppression.

“My intention was to deliver a message, a message I believed in,” he said. “I was hoping the United States would say, ‘Let’s sit down and talk and solve these problems,’ but America was going on and doing what I expected them to do.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2014, on page 10.
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Summary

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law offered a rare glimpse of the Al-Qaeda leader in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, recounting during surprise testimony Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom how the two met that night in a cave in Afghanistan.

Abu Ghaith testified that bin Laden seemed worried that night and asked what he thought would happen next.

The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator and had no role in plotting more attacks.

Lacing some questions with sarcasm, Ferrara took particular aim at Abu Ghaith's claims that he was merely embellishing bin Laden's "bullet points" on videotapes as he condemned America.

Ferrera mocked Abu Ghaith's statement that he stayed and helped bin Laden for two weeks after Sept. 11 because the conditions in Afghanistan were tense and he had no way to travel.


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