NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Osama bin Laden summoned his son-in-law to use the “murderous power of his words” to rally others against America after the Sept. 11 attacks, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin said Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was asked by bin Laden on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, to use his oratory skills as the public face of al Qaeda to recruit and inspire others to attack the United States.
“While our buildings still burned, he agreed — in what is the most important moment in al Qaeda’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 Qaeda 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.
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 Qaeda,” 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 his client had said was “dumb” 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.”
Defense lawyers have also 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 is the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Kuwaiti-born Abu Ghaith is married to bin Laden’s eldest daughter, Fatima.
The trial is expected to last about three to five weeks.
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