NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A man purported to be Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was introduced to prospective jurors on Monday at the start of his trial on charges that he conspired to kill Americans and support terrorists in his role as al Qaeda’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked Sulaiman Abu Ghaith to turn and face the potential jurors before asking if any of them knew him. None did.
The judge drew silence as well when he asked if there was anyone who had never heard of al Qaeda.
The questioning was part of a process to shrink a pool of dozens of prospective jurors to the 12 anonymous jurors and several alternates necessary before opening statements begin Wednesday or Thursday.
A few prospective jurors were dismissed after acknowledging they would have trouble being fair because they knew people killed in the 2001 World Trade Center attack. One man who said he thought trials like this should occur in a world court was asked by the judge if he could still decide the case fairly.
“Probably not,” he said.
The trial, expected to last about three to five weeks, began a year after Abu Ghaith was brought to the United States following his capture in Jordan.
The judge told prospective jurors they would need to decide whether Abu Ghaith had conspired to kill Americans, conspired to provide material support and resources to terrorists and then supplied material support and resources to terrorists.
Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The government plans to show jurors during its opening statement a picture of Abu Ghaith seated with bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders on Sept. 12, 2001, as they make statements about the attacks.
Prosecutors also will show post-Sept. 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 and killed thousands of people.
“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.
Defense lawyers said some government evidence relates to a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a similar name to Abu Ghaith rather than to the defendant, who has pleaded not guilty. The judge has called the mistaken-identity claim “utterly meritless.”
Abu Ghaith’s attorneys also are trying to enlist help from professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed to bolster the case for acquittal, though it hasn’t come fast enough for them to gain permission from the judge for Mohammed to testify. If convicted, Abu Ghaith could face life in prison.
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 Sept. 11.
In an affidavit, Abu Ghaith said he left Afghanistan in 2002 and entered Iran, where he was arrested and held in prisons and interrogated extensively. He said he was heading home to Kuwait to see family when his 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.
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