NEW YORK – Osama bin Laden summoned his son-in-law in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks to use the "murderous power of his words" to rally terrorists around the world against America, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday at the start of a terrorism trial just blocks from the World Trade Center complex.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin said Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was asked by his father-in-law on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, to use his oratory skills as the public face of al-Qaida to recruit and inspire recruits to attack the United States.
"While our buildings still burned, he agreed ... in what is the most important moment in al-Qaida's savage history," Lewin said in opening statements in a Manhattan courthouse. "He invoked his twisted view of Islam and declared 'Fight thee against the friends of Satan. Fight with al-Qaida against America.'"
Abu Ghaith, 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. Born in Kuwait, he is married to bin Laden's eldest daughter, Fatima.
Defense attorney Stanley Cohen, in his opening statement Wednesday, mocked the government's presentation, telling jurors: "You've just been to the movies ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon."
The prosecutor described Abu Ghaith as an inspirational and fiery orator whom some people considered an important religious scholar. He said the defendant had spoken to those training at Afghanistan camps in the weeks and months before the terrorist attacks on the U.S. to inspire them and took it a step further after the attacks by appearing in widely distributed videos.
He told jurors they would see Abu Ghaith on videos from months after Sept. 11 taunting America with threats that the attacks would happen again.
"For more than a year after, the defendant used the murderous power of his words to try to strengthen al-Qaida," Lewin said.
He quoted the defendant several times, saying that he said weeks after the attack: "These young men who have destroyed the United States and launched the storm of airplanes against it have done a good deed. The storm of airplanes will not abate."
When Lewin finished, Cohen made fun of the prosecutor's explanation of the case. He reminded jurors that his client is not bin Laden, and said the trial is not about the Sept. 11 plot.
"This is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a Muslim, an Arab, from Kuwait, a husband, a father, an imam, a talker, an ideologue," he said of his client.
He told them some of what the government had said was "dumb. It's stupid."
And he urged jurors to keep open minds.
"At the end of the day, there's really no evidence," Cohen said. "There is the substitution for evidence with fright and alarm."