By Philip Sherwell Telegraph UK
Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law has been found guilty of conspiring to kill Americans in the failed “shoe bomb” transatlantic plane plot by a New York jury sitting just a few streets from the scene of the World Trade Centre attacks.
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born imam, faces life behind bars after he was found guilty of two conspiracy charges and one count of aiding terrorism after the most important trial of a senior al-Qaeda figure on US trial since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The trial threw unprecedented spotlight on Osama bin Laden’s mood in the hours straight after the 9/11 atrocities as Abu Ghaith described being summoned to meet him in an Afghan cave complex to reveal al-Qaeda’s role to the world during dramatic and unexpected testimony in his own defence.
Saajid Badat, a British “supergrass” convicted for his role in the failed “shoe bomb” plot to blow up passenger planes over the US, was a key prosecution witness in the first of a series of US terrorism trials in which he is scheduled to testify.
The case had major significance for the administration of President Barack Obama. US prosecutors wanted to demonstrate that they can secure a conviction in a sensitive terrorism case in a criminal courtroom, rather than rely on the stalled military tribunal system at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.
The jury delivered a unanimous verdict as Abu Ghaith listened to proceedings through simultaneous translation on earphones in a Manhattan federal courtroom with a view of the gleaming new World Trade Centre tower.
The most damning evidence against him was his own words from al-Qaeda propaganda videos broadcast to the court. In one recorded on September 12, 2001, he is shown sitting next to bin Laden as al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks.
In another, filmed about month later, he warned Americans that the “storm of airplanes will not abate”. Prosecutors said that this was a direct reference to the “shoe bomb” plot, which was already in the planning stages in Afghanistan, as Badat testified in closed circuit evidence from Lonodon.
Appearing on the witness stand, Abu Ghaith recounted his meeting with bin Laden on September 11th. “We are the ones who did it,” he testified that bin Laden told him.”I want to deliver a message to the world … I want you to deliver that message.”
Abu Ghaith also said that bin Laden told him that he was “too gloomy” when he predicted American reprisals for the attacks.
In another video, titled “convoy of martyrs”, Abu Ghaith was filmed preaching over scenes of a plane flying into one of Twin Towers.
“You are looking at a guilty man,” US attorney Michael Ferrara told jurors. “You can convict the defendant on those videos alone.
“This man was not Osama bin Laden’s robot. He was not his puppet … He was no accidental terrorist.”
But Abu Ghaith claimed that he worked from talking points provided by bin Laden when speaking about al-Qaeda, and that he had no intention of recruiting fighters for the group, as the prosecution had argued.
Stanley Cohen, the lead defence attorney, argued in his closing speech that there was no evidence his client held a senior position with al-Qaeda.
He said that prosecutors had tried to inflame jurors and play on their emotions by repeatedly showing them the martyr video and by making constant references to 9/11, even though Abu Ghaith was not charged in those attacks.
The video “was designed, it was intended to sweep you away in anguish, in pain, and to ask for retaliation”, he said.
In a strongly worded address, he accused the government of “trying to steal your independence, to intimidate you and to frighten you into returning verdicts not based upon evidence, but fear.”
Abu Ghaith will be sentenced at a later date.