On its second day of deliberations, a jury today found Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the most senior adviser to Osama bin Laden tried in a civilian U.S. court since the Sept. 11 attacks, guilty of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.
The trial focused on the question of Abu Ghaith’s closeness to Bin Laden. While lawyers for the 48-year-old Kuwaiti cleric claimed that he had a minimal role in al Qaeda and was not involved with, nor had any advance knowledge of, any terrorist plot, prosecutors pressed the point that Abu Ghaith was extremely close to Bin Laden—and they buttressed the point by showing photographs and videos of them together. One of these photographs showed Abu Ghaith on the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, sitting beside Bin Laden and two other al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman Al-Zawahri, the Egyptian-born current leader of al Qaeda.
“Sulaiman Abu Ghaith literally sat at Osama bin Laden’s right hand,” prosecutor John P. Cronan said in his closing argument.
Cronan cited a video Abu Ghaith made on Oct. 9, 2001, warning that “the storm of airplanes will not abate,” and that there were thousands of Muslim youths who were yearning for death, “just as the Americans yearn to live.”
The trial was in its third week when the jury returned its verdict in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Abu Ghaith was convicted of three counts: conspiracy to kill Americans, for which he could face life in prison; and providing material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to do so, counts that each carry maximum terms of 15 years.
Abu Ghaith became Bin Laden’s son-in-law after he married Bin Laden’s daughter Fatima. After he was captured last year, he was brought to the United States on terrorism charges.
When Abu Ghaith unexpectedly took the stand last week, he talked about the night of the Sept. 11 attacks when Bin Laden summoned him to his cave in the Afghan mountains.
“He said, ‘Come in, sit down.’ He said, ‘Did you learn about what happened?’” Abu Ghaith said.
According to Abu Ghaith, Bin Laden claimed credit for the attacks and told him the next day that he wanted Abu Ghaith to help him “deliver a message to the world.”
Stanley L. Cohen, Abu Ghaith’s lawyer, said in his closing argument on Monday that his client was speaking as an imam, not on behalf of al Qaeda.
“You saw videos from a theologian,” Mr. Cohen said. “These words and these concepts may be offensive to you. They may disgust you. But you are going to have to decide the context.”