Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was due in court to face a possible life sentence for his role as the spokesman for al-Qaida following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith — the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the attacks — was convicted in March on conspiracy charges that he answered Osama bin Laden’s request in the hours after the attacks to speak on the widely circulated videos used to recruit new followers willing to go on suicide missions like the 19 who hijacked four commercial jets on Sept. 11.
“The storm of airplanes will not stop,” the Kuwaiti imam warned in an October 2001 video that was played for the jury.
Also shown repeatedly to jurors were frames of a video made Sept. 12, 2001, that showed Abu Ghaith seated next to bin Laden and two other top al-Qaida leaders as they tried to justify the attacks.
Taking the witness stand in his own defense, Abu Ghaith calmly denied he was an al-Qaida recruiter and claimed his role was a religious one aimed at encouraging all Muslims to rise up against their oppressors. He insisted he agreed to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of Sept. 11 out of respect for bin Laden’s standing as a sheik.
“I didn’t go to meet with him to bless if he had killed hundreds of Americans or not. I went to meet with him to know what he wanted,” Abu Ghaith said.
The defense argued in court papers that Abu Ghaith deserves no more than 15 years behind bars because he wasn’t convicted of any acts of violence.
Abu Gaith, 48, “faces the harshest of penalties for talk — and only talk — which is at times zealous, pious and devout; at other times intemperate; at still others, offensive to core values of humanity,” the defense papers said. “In this sense, he was not unlike an outrageous daytime shock-radio host.”
In a submission seeking a life sentence, the government responded by calling the comparison to a radio host “as absurd as it is offensive” and accused the defense of trying to minimize Abu Ghaith’s role in promoting al-Qaida’s deadly agenda.
“Abu Ghaith was a terrorist who sat alongside bin Laden on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, celebrating the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent, men, women and children the day before,” prosecutors wrote.
Abu Ghaith was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.