Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law appeared in a New York court today, pleading not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to kill Americans.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former preacher and husband of Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima, was led handcuffed into the crowded courtroom, dressed in dark blue prison attire. He listened to proceedings through an interpreter, and spoke twice to confirm he understood the accusations and that he wanted court-appointed lawyers.
Mr Abu Ghaith stands accused of being a spokesman and propagandist for his father-in-law’s al-Qa’ida terror organisation. He is not alleged to have had an operational role in the group’s terror plots – but, in the wake of the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, he appeared alongside Bin Laden and his then deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, saying that a “great army” was gathering against the US, according to allegations in an indictment. Court documents say he went on to call upon “the nation of Islam” to fight against “the Jews, the Christians and the Americans.”
Prosecutors, who say evidence against Mr Abu Ghaith includes video and audio recordings, further allege that in a speech following the attacks he said “the storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm.”
The 47 year-old, who is alleged to have served alongside Bin Laden from at least May 2001 to 2002, was arrested in Turkey last month. He was living in Ankara after crossing over the border from Iran, where he had been living for a number of years. An NBC news report claimed part of Mr Abu Ghaith’s time in Iran was in “some sort of confinement” by local authorities.
The case is a legal victory for the Obama administration, which has sought to charge senior al-Qa’ida suspects in federal courts instead of the military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba – a key pledge made by President Barack Obama after he took office in 2009.
But the decision to try Mr Abu Ghaith in a civilian court has prompted criticism from some Republican lawmakers. In a joint statement, Senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte said: “The Obama administration’s lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of al-Qa’ida, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe.”