NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Testimony continued in Manhattan federal court Friday in the terrorism trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law.
As WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported, the government called Evan Coleman to the stand Friday as an expert witness on terrorism.
Coleman told the jury Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was al Qaeda’s official spokesman. When Abu Ghaith made a rousing videotaped speech the day after the 9/11 attacks, it was to claim a great victory and to recruit al Qaeda trainees to carry out more suicide missions, Coleman testified.
On cross examination, defense attorney Stanley Cohen challenged Coleman’s testimony, suggesting that “perhaps when you hear religious speeches by terrorists with religious music in the background, it’s just about religion.”
“Absolutely not,” Coleman said.
The witness testified that they always use music that talks about suicide bombings, beheadings and blowing up planes.
“That is not religion; that’s recruitment,” Coleman testified.
The jury on Thursday heard testimony from FBI agent Michael Butsch that Abu Ghaith claimed the Sept. 11 terror attacks were a surprise to him, but that the word was all over the al Qaeda training camps that something big was going to happen.
The government’s charge that he provided material support to the terrorist group is based on the fact that when Osama bin Laden summoned him on the very day of the attacks to videotape a speech that would let the world know al Qaeda was responsible, he agreed.
On the night of 9/11, bin Laden asked Abu Ghaith to give a series of speeches and even gave him bullet points, Abu Ghaith recalled, according to the FBI agent.
Abu Ghaith went on to make a series of videotaped speeches, recording the first on Sept. 12 with bin Laden alongside him.
“He said the purpose of these videotapes was for propaganda, to get them out into the media,” Butsch said. In an Oct. 9, 2001, video, for instance, Abu Ghaith threatened that “America must know that the storm of airplanes will not abate, with God’s permission.”
The government contends that that proves Abu Ghaith, 48, did know about the shoe bombing plot aimed at blowing up an American Airlines jet that was already in the works.
Abu Ghaith has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to al Qaeda, initially by giving motivational talks at its terrorist training camps and agreeing to serve as a spokesman.
In a 2002 audio interview on an al Qaeda-linked website, he invoked 9/11 as an accomplishment and said the group would soon strike again, according to a recording that prosecutors played in court Thursday.
Abu Ghaith is the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to be tried on U.S. soil since 9/11. While he isn’t accused of taking part in the Sept. 11 attacks, they have been an important element in the backdrop of the case against him.
Abu Ghaith’s defense has said that while he’s an ideologue, he’s not a terrorism conspirator. One of his attorneys, Zoe Dolan, pointed out while cross-examining Butsch that his exchange with Abu Ghaith, conducted via an FBI translator, wasn’t recorded.
Abu Ghaith has said he left Afghanistan in 2002 for Iran, where he was arrested and held for years, then was heading to Kuwait to see relatives when his flight landed instead in Jordan and was turned over to American authorities.
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers have said he wasn’t properly informed of his right to a lawyer and was interrogated with few breaks and little food on a 14-hour flight to a suburban New York airport.
Butsch said Abu Ghaith was treated “like a gentleman,” advised of his rights and given several breathers for food, prayer, and the bathroom. And Abu Ghaith agreed to talk, the agent said.
“He said, ‘You will hear things of al Qaeda that you never imagined,”’ Butsch said.
Abu Ghaith, born in Kuwait, faces a possible life prison sentence if he is convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and of providing material support to al Qaeda. His trial began in federal court in Manhattan last week. About five years ago, he married bin Laden’s eldest daughter, Fatima.
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