NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – An American who trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan months before the Sept. 11 attacks has testified for the government in its conspiracy case against the terrorist group’s former spokesman.
The witness, Sahim Alwan, was called Thursday to testify against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Abu Ghaith is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and conspiring to support al Qaeda.
Alwan pleaded guilty in 2003 to providing support to al Qaeda and served most of a nearly 10-year prison sentence. He says he was testifying Thursday because he was subpoenaed by the government.
Alwan’s sentence was reduced in return for his testimony in a Guantanamo Bay case, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
He told the jury he’s no longer obligated to testify for the government, but said he’s “atoning for mistakes I made. I want to help my government.”
When asked to look around the courtroom and see if he would recognize anyone he encountered in Afghanistan in 2001, Alwan said he couldn’t say with certainty if that was the case.
He did identify the defendant in a picture that shows him sitting outside a cave with Osama bin Laden.
The 41-year-old Alwan says he was born in Buffalo, N.Y., but went to Afghanistan with three others after meeting them at a mosque in Lackawanna, N.Y., where he grew up.
In opening statements on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin said Abu Ghaith was asked by his father-in-law, Osama 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.”
“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.”
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