NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was recruited in Afghanistan to be al Qaeda’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks and spread a message of hate against America that would incite more would-be Muslim militants to join its cause, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments at the son-in-law’s terrorism trial.
Bin Laden used the spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, “to send a message – a message that al Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 11 were justified that the United States got what it deserved,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said in federal court in Manhattan.
Abu Ghaith, an imam from Kuwait, delivered fiery videotaped sermons in Arabic that were intended to drive “more men to al Qaeda and its mission. Al Qaeda needed these young men to be its next generation of terrorists.”
He added: “This man’s purpose was to justify mass murder to al Qaeda recruits and to the entire world.”
“With his own words,” Cronan said, “Abu Ghaith convicts himself.”
The prosecutor told jurors the evidence against the defendant – including propaganda audio and videotapes of him speaking on behalf of al Qaeda – is overwhelming. He argued that Abu Ghaith’s own testimony at the trial amounted to a confession, showing he had full knowledge of the terrorist group’s goals and was willing to advance them.
Taking the witness stand last week, Abu Ghaith recounted how he was summoned to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of Sept. 11. When the attacks came up in the conversation, bin Laden told him, “We are the ones who did it,” he testified.
“I want to deliver a message to the world. — I want you to deliver that message,” Abu Ghaith said bin Laden told him.
The next day, Abu Ghaith was recorded sitting next to bin Laden and saying, “We are capable of engaging in this confrontation.” The jury also heard audio from October 2001 of the defendant warning, “The storm of airplanes will not stop” – evidence that the government alleged showed the defendant knew in advance about the failed shoe-bomb airline attack by Richard Reid in December 2001.
Cronan cited a televised 2002 interview in which Abu Ghaith assured his audience that bin Laden was in good health, arguing it was further proof the defendant was a trusted al Qaeda insider.
“How many people on the planet knew Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man on the planet, was in good health?” Cronan said.
His job with al Qaeda at that point was “to tell the world, ‘We’re not dead. It’s still worth coming to Afghanistan and fighting with us,” the prosecutor said.
Abu Ghaith, 48, has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill Americans and provided material support to al Qaeda. The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator, and had no role in plotting more attacks.
The judge rejected defense efforts to called the self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, as a witness. In a statement written from his Guantanamo Bay cell, Mohammed has said Abu Ghaith had no role in al Qaeda’s military operations.
Abu Ghaith is married to bin Laden’s eldest daughter, Fatima.
He is the highest-level al Qaeda figure to be tried in the U.S. since 9/11. He was brought to New York from Turkey last year.
His terrorism trial began earlier this month at Manhattan federal court. If convicted, Abu Ghaith faces up to life in prison.
The defense was to give its closing arguments later Monday.
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