Sahim Alwan, 41, of Lackawanna, New York, testified in federal
court in New York that Abu Ghaith spoke to the al Qaeda recruits
months before hijacked jets attacked the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, killing 3,000 people. Abu Ghaith is on trial for
conspiring to kill Americans.
Alwan said he was at an al Qaeda training camp in spring, 2001 and
saw Abu Ghaith one night at a guest house in Kandahar, urging
several men to provide a "bayat," or pledge to bin Laden. He said he
was already having second thoughts about joining Al Qaeda. But he
stayed in Afghanistan long enough to meet Osama bin Laden, who asked
him what American Muslims thought about suicide bombers.
Prosecutors say Abu Ghaith, 48, was a critical al Qaeda spokesman
and recruiter after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He is one of the
highest-ranking figures linked to al Qaeda to face a civilian jury
on terrorism-related charges since the attacks.
His lawyer has said there is no evidence against him.
Alwan was arrested in 2002 and ultimately sentenced to 9-1/2 years
in prison after pleading guilty to providing material support to a
foreign terrorist organization. He was released from prison in July
2010 after agreeing to cooperate with the government in another
investigation, and is now in the cell phone business, he said.
Alwan recognized an old picture of Abu Ghaith, but could not
definitively identify him when a prosecutor asked Alwan to stand and
identify anyone in the courtroom he remembered from Afghanistan.
"I can't say 100 percent for sure," he said, after looking at Abu
After the incident in spring, 2001, Alwan said he never saw Abu
Ghaith again except on television following the September 11
Alwan described a journey that began in a Lackawanna mosque and
included a motorcycle ride into Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Once in the Kandahar guesthouse, he had second thoughts after seeing
a video of the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.
"I knew at that time I was in way over my head," he said.
[to top of second column]
Alwan also said he met bin Laden three times, the last being a
chilling one-on-one sit-down at another guesthouse Alwan stayed at
on his way out of Afghanistan.
Bin Laden asked how American Muslims felt about suicide bombings and
how they were treated in the United States, Alwan said. Alwan
replied that they were "more free" than in some Muslim countries.
"He kind of smiled," Alwan said. Bin Laden then asked, "Do you need
us to clean your passport?"
Abu Ghaith's attorneys will
cross-examine Alwan on Monday.
Another government witness, Saajid Badat is also expected to testify
on Monday from Britain via video feed. Badat plotted with Richard
Reid, the man who became known as the shoe bomber after his attempt
to detonate explosives on a flight to Miami in 2002.
Also Thursday, David Karnes, a soldier who said he was in the first
team of U.S. Army special forces in Afghanistan after the September
11 attacks, testified that his group confiscated a coded card with
both bin Laden and Abu Ghaith's name on it.
Prosecutors have said that card suggests Abu Ghaith was among the
top tier of al Qaeda leadership.
Prosecutors say Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti imam, spent time in
Afghanistan with bin Laden soon after the attacks and recorded
several statements threatening further attacks against Americans,
including one that said "the storm of airplanes will not stop."
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over Abu Ghaith's
trial, told sketch artists on Wednesday that they were not allowed
to draw Karnes, 41. No sketch artists were in court on Thursday.
The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York, No. 98-cr-01023.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; editing by David Gregorio)
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