NEW YORK – After the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law became a key player in al-Qaida’s campaign of terror, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday, while a defense lawyer argued that the government had no evidence against his client and was playing on the jury’s fears.
In closing arguments at the trial of the son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said that bin Laden had recruited the defendant to be an al-Qaida spokesman “to send a message – a message that al-Qaida’s attacks on Sept. 11 were justified that the United States got what it deserved.”
Abu Ghaith, an imam from Kuwait, delivered fiery videotaped sermons in Arabic that were intended to drive “more men to al-Qaida and its mission,” Cronan said. “Al-Qaida needed these young men to be its next generation of terrorists.”
For at least the third time in the trial, prosecutors showed jurors clips of a late 2001 or early 2002 “Convoy of Martyrs” promotional al-Qaida video that included Abu Ghaith speaking and scenes in which the second plane flies into a World Trade Center tower, leaving both 110-story towers in flames.
Then they showed a video in which Abu Ghaith looks at bin Laden admiringly as the al-Qaida leader boasts that he knew the heat from the flaming towers would be enough to make them fall.
Abu Ghaith’s attorney, Stanley Cohen, countered in his closing that there was no evidence his client played any significant role in al-Qaida in the aftermath of 9/11. He accused prosecutors of seeking to manipulate jurors by showing them the World Trade Center video and endlessly referencing 9/11, even though Abu Ghaith isn’t charged in the attack.
The video “was designed to sweep you away in anguish and pain and to ask for retaliation,” he said.
The defense attorney later warned the jury that prosecutors “want you to return a verdict not based on evidence, but based on fear.”
Jury deliberations were set to begin today.
Abu Ghaith, 48, who was brought to New York last year after his capture in Turkey, has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to kill Americans and provided material support to al-Qaida.
The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he went to Afghanistan as a religious scholar concerned about oppression of all Muslims, he never swore an oath of allegiance to bin Laden and he had no role in promoting terrorism.
On Monday, Cronan argued the evidence against the defendant, including propaganda audio and videotapes of him speaking on behalf of al-Qaida, is overwhelming.