A US district court has opened proceedings against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law. The terror trial is expected to last around one month, with the first few days dedicated to picking a 12-person jury.
District Judge Lewis Kaplan asked a pool of almost 50 prospective jurors a series of questions on Monday, seeking to whittle their numbers down to 12. All of the candidates said that they did not know the accused, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, while none answered in the affirmative when Kaplan asked if anybody had never heard of al Qaeda before. The court is expected to pick its dozen jurors by Wednesday. Owing to the nature of the case, the 12 jurors and their alternates will remain anonymous.
Sometimes referred to as the group's "spokesman," Abu Ghaith is accused of providing assistance to al Qaeda and conspiring to kill US citizens, and is among the highest-ranking members of the terror group to face trial in the US.
The prosecution was planning to show a picture which allegedly shows the 48-year-old seated with bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders on September 12, 2001. Another key submission from the prosecution is a video broadcast from October 9 that year, in which the cleric said that "the storm of airplanes will not stop."
Abu Ghaith, who has pleaded not guilty and could face life in prison, worked as an imam in his native Kuwait before moving to Afghanistan and joining al Qaeda in 2000. He then married one of bin Laden's daughters, Fatima.
The decision to try Abu Ghaith at a civil court on US soil, as opposed to a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal, has courted some criticism from US lawmakers. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham voiced concern of setting a precedent "that will come back to haunt us later."
Abu Ghaith was taken into US custody in Jordan last year; the details on his arrest and whereabouts in the years after the September 11 attacks remain hazy. The defendant himself submitted a court affidavit saying he was arrested in Iran in 2002 and was held in captivity there until 2013. Abu Ghaith said he was then moved to Turkish detention, before being flown to Jordan and handed over to US authorities.
msh/lw (AP, dpa, Reuters)