NEW YORK (AFP) — A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and former al-Qaeda spokesman goes on trial in New York Monday, accused of conspiracy to kill Americans and supporting terrorists.
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, who spent time with bin Laden in Afghanistan, is best known for making incendiary threats in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that killed 3,000 people.
The 48-year-old suspect from Kuwait is one of the most senior alleged Al-Qaeda members to face trial in the United States and faces life behind bars in an American prison if convicted.
His trial, which could feature testimony from the self-declared mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, will be watched closely by those pushing for all terror suspects to be tried in civilian courts.
The defendant is best-known for appearing alongside bin Laden and the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in al-Qaeda propaganda videos in September 2001.
Married to bin Laden’s daughter Fatima, US prosecutors say Abu Ghaith worked for al-Qaeda until 2002, when he fled the US military presence in Afghanistan for neighboring Iran.
The prosecution claims he was complicit in the December 2001 plot to bring down an airliner flying from Paris to Miami.
British al-Qaeda recruit Richard Reid is serving a life sentence for trying to blow up the jet with bombs hidden in his shoes.
But the defense says the United States has no evidence that Abu Ghaith was involved or even aware of such plots.
The defendant pleads not guilty to all three counts against him.
Highlights in the trial are likely to be two witnesses testifying by video link from Britain and Yemen.
On March 10, Saajid Badat, a 33-year-old convicted co-conspirator of Reid subsequently released in Britain and dubbed a terror “supergrass” by the media, has been called by the prosecution.
US District Judge Lewis Kaplan also authorized the testimony by video link of bin Laden’s former driver Salim Hamdan, from Yemen.
Hamdan was convicted in the United States of providing material support for terrorists, but his sentence was overturned on appeal.
The defense tried repeatedly to delay the trial, most recently on the grounds of mistaken identity, but Kaplan ruled that selection for the anonymous jury will begin Monday.
Judge to hear other terror cases
The trial in the US federal court in lower Manhattan is expected to last a month.
Kaplan ruled that the trial can begin without the defense receiving 14 pages of testimony from 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2006.
The lawyer for Mohammed, the most high-profile detainee held over the 2001 attacks, refused to send the document because US intelligence wanted to vet the answers, according to the defense.
Lawyers claims Abu Ghaith has effectively been declared guilty on the basis of his “mere association” with bin Laden and that he was tortured while being brought to the United States.
A string of terror cases has been transferred to New York in the last two years as US President Barack Obama has promised to close down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The same US federal court in Manhattan will put on trial radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was extradited by Britain in 2012 and indicted on 11 terror counts that include kidnapping.
His trial, also delayed several times, is set for April 14.
In addition, Kaplan will preside over the trial of al-Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi, who was captured in Libya in October in connection with 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa.
Abu Ghaith was detained after travelling to Turkey in 2013 and arrested by the Americans in Jordan.
Kuwait revoked his citizenship shortly after the 9/11 attacks.