Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Not guilty, says bin Laden relative

An image of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who has denied terror charges at a court in New York (AP)

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law has pleaded not guilty to plotting against Americans in his role as al Qaida's leading spokesman as a landmark case trying a terror suspect on US soil moves forward.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith entered the plea through a lawyer to one count of conspiracy to kill Americans after being captured in Jordan in the past week.

The case marks a legal victory for the Obama administration, which has long sought to charge senior al Qaida suspects in US federal courts instead of holding them at the military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Charging foreign terror suspects in federal courts was a top pledge by president Barack Obama shortly after he took office in 2009 - aimed, in part, to close Guantanamo Bay.

Republicans have fought the White House to keep Guantanamo open, and bringing Abu Ghaith to New York led to an outcry. Republicans in Congress do not want high-threat terror suspects brought into the United States, fearing that outcomes in a civilian jury trial are too unpredictable compared with a military trial.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the capture of Abu Ghaith, saying "no amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America's enemies to justice". Mr Holder reluctantly agreed in 2011 to try self-professed al Qaida mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a Guantanamo Bay military court instead of a civilian court after a fierce Republican backlash.

The Justice Department said Abu Ghaith was the spokesman for al Qaida, working alongside bin Laden and current leader Ayman al-Zawahri, since at least May 2001. Abu Ghaith is a former mosque preacher and teacher who urged followers to swear allegiance to bin Laden, prosecutors said.

The day after the September 11 attacks, prosecutors say he appeared with bin Laden and al-Zawahri and called on the "nation of Islam" to battle against Jews, Christians and Americans. A "great army is gathering against you", Abu Ghaith said on September 12, 2001, according to prosecutors.

Abu Ghaith gave an "extensive post-arrest statement" that totalled 22 pages and arrived in the US on March 1, assistant US attorney John P Cronan said. The prosecutor gave no details on the statement. Abu Ghaith nodded yes when asked, through an interpreter, if he understood his rights. He shook his head no when asked whether he had money to hire an attorney.

Bail was not requested, and none was set. The judge said he would set a trial date for April 8. Prosecutors said a trial would last about three weeks.

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