NEW YORK – A federal jury in Manhattan will hear charges that Osama bin Laden's son-in-law conspired to kill Americans as al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Jury selection for the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith — the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the attacks — was expected to get underway Monday. 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-Qaida 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-Qaida leader 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.
In an affidavit filed last year as he tried to suppress a 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.