Osama bin Laden's son-in-law has been found guilty on terrorism charges by a court in New York. His three-week trial has been the most-high profile al Qaeda case to reach a US federal court.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was convicted Wednesday on three counts of conspiracy to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. The 48-year-old imam from Kuwait now faces life in prison.
The verdict for the highest-ranking al Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil since the September 11 attacks came after around five hours of jury deliberation.
Prosecutors had accused Abu Ghaith as acting as a mouthpiece for al Qaeda. During the trial, he testified that he answered bin Laden's request in the hours following the September 11 attacks to speak on widely distributed videos used to recruit new fighters.
Bin Laden's 'messenger'
In an October 2001 video that was played for the jury, Abu Ghaith was heard saying "the storm of airplanes will not stop." The video showed him seated next to bin Laden and two other high-ranking al Qaeda figures trying to justify the attacks. The prosecution also used the video as evidence of Abu Ghaith's advanced knowledge of the attempted shoe bombing aboard an airplane by Briton Richard Reid in December 2001.
During closing arguments on Monday, Assistant US Attorney John Cronan underlined what he called the importance of Abu Ghaith's status after 9/11.
"Going to that man was the first thing Osama bin Laden did on September 11 after the terror attacks," he said. "The defendant committed himself to al Qaeda's conspiracy to kill Americans, and he worked to drive other people to that conspiracy."
"During the most important period in al Qaeda's savage history, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was Osama bin Laden's principal messenger … he used his fiery oratory to incite al Qaeda's growing army of terror in this war with America," Cronan added.
'Ugly words and bad associations'
Abu Ghaith's attorneys said the case against their client was built on "ugly words and bad associations" rather than actual evidence that proved he knew of or was involved in plots against Americans.
When he took the stand to testify, Abu Ghaith denied he helped plot al Qaeda attacks and claimed he was never a formal member of the group. He insisted that he agreed to meet bin Laden the night of September 11, 2001 out of respect for his standing as a sheik.
"I didn't go to meet with him to bless if he had killed hundreds of Americans or not. I went to meet with him to know what he wanted," Abu Ghaith said.
Sentencing is set for September 8. The charges against him carry the potential for life imprisonment.
Defense attorney Stanley Cohen said after the verdict was delivered that he will appeal.
Abu Ghaith "was stoic. He was at ease. He has confidence this is not the end but the beginning," he said. "We think there are a number of compelling issues for an appeal."
Abu Ghaith fled Afghanistan for Iran in 2002. He was arrested last year in Turkey and sent to Jordan, where he was transferred to US custody.
dr/jlw (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)