Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, who formerly served as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda and was arrested in February, was originally charged with one count of conspiracy to kill Americans. A superseding indictment unsealed on Friday, however, added two new charges: conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists.
Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty to all charges on Monday. His attorney, Stanley Cohen, requested a 60-day delay in the trial, currently scheduled for February 3, so he could prepare for the new charges. The defense has also denied that Abu Ghaith was an Al-Qaeda spokesperson.
According to AFP, US lawyers tied Abu Ghaith to British Al-Qaeda member Richard Reid’s plot to blow up an airplane with bombs located in his shoes. Reid is currently serving a life sentence for his actions, and the prosecution argued that a 2001-era video indicated that Abu Ghaith was aware of the plot.
The US accuses Abu Ghaith of appearing in the video with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and warning Americans that the “storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm.” He allegedly told the “nation of Islam to do battle against the Jews, the Christians and the Americans.”
The most recent indictment also claims that Abu Ghaith gave a speech in early 2002, in which he labeled the World Trade Center attacks a “victory,” and declared that Al-Qaeda was determining which targets to strike next, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We shall be launching terrorist attacks on America…at a time, place and a method of our choosing,” he allegedly said.
Earlier this year, the defense tried to prohibit statements made by Abu Ghaith during his interrogation by FBI agents from being presented as evidence, claiming he was tortured. It has also argued that the defendant is being charged and labeled as guilty for his “mere association” with bin Laden.
Additionally, Judge Lewis Kaplan approved a request by the US government to keep the jury anonymous, even during the selection process. Due to the likelihood that Abu Ghaith will issue threats against the United States, “reasonable jurors could of course fear for their safety,” said Assistant US Attorney Michael Ferrara, according to a court document. “Fear is at odds with impartiality.”
This trial marks the first time that a terror suspect associated with the September 11 attacks is being tried in an American civilian court.