By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A seemingly unrepentant Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday in New York following his conviction on terrorism charges.
A Manhattan federal jury in March found the Kuwaiti-born 48-year-old guilty of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support for terrorists and providing such support, after a trial that offered a rare glimpse of bin Laden in the hours following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan imposed the sentence minutes after Abu Ghaith made a statement in Arabic, quoting the Koran and declaring he would not ask for mercy from anyone but God.
"Today, and at the same moment where you are shackling my hands and intend to bury me alive, you are at the same time unleashing the hands of hundreds of Muslim youths," the former imam said through an interpreter. "And you are removing the dust of their minds, and they will join the rally of the free men."
In response, Kaplan noted Abu Ghaith had expressed no remorse, and cited a video in which Abu Ghaith appeared amused by al Qaeda's Sept. 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.
"You, sir, in my assessment, are committed to doing everything you can to assist al Qaeda in its mission to kill Americans," Kaplan said.
Prosecutors had painted Abu Ghaith as a charismatic spokesman for al Qaeda in the days and weeks after the attacks, saying he recorded inflammatory videos the group could use to recruit new members.
The government also contended that one October 2001 video, in which Abu Ghaith promised the "storm of airplanes will not stop," indicated he knew beforehand of an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a jetliner in December 2001 by Briton Richard Reid.
"Suleiman Abu Ghaith served at the very highest levels of al Qaeda," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan told the court. "Abu Ghaith was a proud participant in al Qaeda's conspiracy to kill Americans. And he was someone Osama bin Laden relied on heavily," Cronan said.
Abu Ghaith's lawyer, Stanley Cohen, argued his client was guilty only of delivering fiery speeches and that there was not a "scintilla of evidence" to connect him with any specific al Qaeda plots.
Abu Ghaith took the stand in his own defense, where he described meeting bin Laden in an Afghan cave the evening of Sept. 11. He said bin Laden told him, "We are the ones who did it."
The next day, he said, he recorded his first video at bin Laden's request. However, he denied ever becoming a member of al Qaeda and said his intention was not to speak or recruit for the group.
Abu Ghaith would marry bin Laden's daughter Fatima years later, a fact the jury was not permitted to hear.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)