Abu Ghaith, 48, a Kuwait-born Muslim cleric, faces life in prison
after a federal court jury in New York convicted him of conspiring
to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support for
terrorists, and providing such support.
Jurors took just over one day to reach a verdict in a courtroom that
is blocks from the site of the World Trade Center destroyed in the
hijacked plane attacks nearly 13 years ago.
Abu Ghaith's court-appointed lawyer, Stanley Cohen, said there were
several issues he would raise on appeal. They include U.S. District
Judge Lewis Kaplan's decision to bar testimony from Pakistan-born
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man the U.S. government accuses of
masterminding the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New
York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
"He was stoic, he was at ease," Cohen said of Abu Ghaith's reaction
to the verdict. "I think he feels that it was impossible under the
circumstances to receive a fair trial."
The judge scheduled September 8 for sentencing.
Prosecutors had accused Abu Ghaith, one of the highest-profile bin
Laden advisers to face trial in a U.S. civilian court, of acting as
an al Qaeda mouthpiece and using videotapes of his inflammatory
rhetoric to recruit new fighters.
They also said Abu Ghaith knew in advance of an attempt to detonate
a shoe bomb aboard an airplane by Briton Richard Reid in December
2001, citing in part an October 2001 video in which he warned
Americans that the "storm of airplanes will not stop."
Lawyers for Abu Ghaith said the prosecution was based on "ugly words
and bad associations," rather than actual evidence that the
defendant knew of or joined plots against Americans.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a statement after the verdict,
said it bolstered the argument that militants should be tried on
terrorism charges in civilian courts, rather than as combatants in
That sentiment was echoed by Karen Greenberg, the director of
Fordham Law School's Center on National Security, who attended the
"The federal courts are robust and can handle the numerous
challenges that terror trials pose, including witnesses taking the
stand and classified material," she said on Wednesday.
In a surprising move, Abu Ghaith testified in his own defense,
denying he helped plot al Qaeda attacks and claiming he never became
a formal member of the group.
He described meeting bin Laden inside a cave in Afghanistan hours
after the September 11 attacks.
"We are the ones who did this," bin Laden told Abu Ghaith, according
to the defendant's testimony. Abu Ghaith said he learned of the
attacks in news reports.
He said that night, bin Laden asked him what he believed the United
States' response would be.
[to top of second column]
Abu Ghaith said he told bin Laden that the United States would not
rest until it had accomplished two goals: killing bin Laden and
overthrowing the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
too pessimistic," bin Laden replied, according to Abu Ghaith.
The Taliban was in fact soon ousted by the U.S. and its allies and
bin Laden, a founder of al Qaeda, was killed by U.S. forces in May
2011 at a hideout in Pakistan.
On the day after seeing bin Laden and discussing the attacks, Abu
Ghaith testified, he joined a meeting that included al Qaeda's inner
circle: bin Laden and two of his closest lieutenants, Egyptians
Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atef.
A few hours later, he recorded the first of several videos at bin
Laden's request, declaring that the September 11 attacks were a
"natural" result of the U.S. policy toward Muslims worldwide.
But he denied that his intention was to speak or recruit for al
Qaeda. Instead, he claimed he was trying to exhort all Muslims to
stand up against oppression.
Abu Ghaith married bin Laden's daughter Fatima years after the
September 11 attacks, a fact that was kept from the jury.
Abu Ghaith's lawyers repeatedly sought to introduce testimony from
accused plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed stating that Abu Ghaith had
no involvement in al Qaeda's military planning. The judge rejected
those requests, finding that Mohammed, now a prisoner in the U.S.
military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, did not appear to have
personal knowledge to back up his claims.
Defense lawyer Cohen also faulted Kaplan for telling the jury on
Wednesday morning that he might keep them deliberating past day's
end if they had not reached a verdict by then, calling it
"It sends a message that in the court's mind this is a no-brainer,"
As in several other terrorism trials held in U.S. civilian courts,
the jury remained anonymous.
(Additional reporting by Nate Raymond; editing by Grant McCool)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.