Trials & Litigation

Bin Laden 'consigliere' arraigned in federal court, accused in claimed conspiracy to kill Americans

The son-in-law of Osama bin Laden has been criminally charged in federal court in New York City, accused of participating in a conspiracy to kill Americans.

Public details of exactly what Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is accused of doing are elusive, according to the New York Times (reg. req.). However, it appears from news reports that he is charged, at least, with inciting others to commit violent and potentially lethal acts against U.S. nationals.

Relying on unidentified sources in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Times says the government officials believe Abu Ghaith has not been active in al-Qaida for years, had no role in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and did not participate in any plot against the United States.

Federal prosecutors say that Abu Ghaith, who pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Friday, made incriminating statements, some of them on video, after he was arrested last month. The defendant is described as a propagandist by the U.S. government and a Kuwaiti preacher by the BBC News. The Times article says he is also a teacher.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said Abu Ghaith “held a key position in al-Qaida, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime,” reports the BBC. Venizelos said the defendant “used his position to threaten the United States and incite its enemies.”

Venizelos also said Abu Ghaith, through his role, helped persuade others to join “al-Qaida’s murderous cause,” the Times reports.

In court filings, prosecutors said Abu Ghaith acted as an al-Qaida spokesman and propagandist from 2001 to 2002, according to the BBC and the Times. It appears that the U.S. government relied on publicized videos after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in which Abu Ghaith reportedly spoke in favor of the attacks and made threats, in charging him in the criminal case.

Originally arrested at a luxury hotel in Turkey, Abu Ghaith, who has been living in Iran for a decade or so, was deported to Kuwait and arrested by U.S. authorities during a stopover in Amman, Jordan, according to the Times. Local news coverage said Abu Ghaith was detained by Turkish authorities after they were tipped by the CIA about his presence in their country. Abu Ghaith, who was stripped of Kuwaiti citizenship after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, is reportedly considered a stateless person by Turkey.

Prosecutors sought no bail today at Abu Ghaith’s arraignment before U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, and his defense lawyer, Philip L. Weinstein, did not pursue the bail issue for the present, according to the Times. The newspaper says Weinstein declined to comment prior to the arraignment.

If convicted, Abu Ghaith faces a maximum sentence of life without parole, the Los Angeles Times reports on its Nation Now page.

The Financial Times (sub. req.) and the Washington Post (reg. req.) also have stories about Abu Ghaith’s arraignment today.

Related coverage:

Christian Science Monitor: “Why Republicans want a military trial for Osama bin Laden’s son in law “

CNN (opinion) : “Trying Osama’s son-in-law in New York makes sense”

Daily Mail: “Bin Laden son-in-law pleads not guilty to charges he conspired to kill Americans on 9/11 in a courtroom just blocks from Ground Zero”

NBC News: “Exclusive: Iran was holding bin Laden son-in-law Abu Ghaith, US officials say”

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