NEW YORK (AP) — After the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law became a key player in al-Qaida's campaign of terror, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday, while a defense lawyer argued that the government had no evidence against his client and was playing on the jury's fears.
In closing arguments at the trial of the son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said that bin Laden had recruited the defendant to be an al-Qaida spokesman "to send a message — a message that al-Qaida's attacks on Sept. 11 were justified that the United States got what it deserved."
Abu Ghaith, an imam from Kuwait, delivered fiery videotaped sermons in Arabic that were intended to drive "more men to al-Qaida and its mission," Cronan said. "Al-Qaida needed these young men to be its next generation of terrorists."
He added: "This man's purpose was to justify mass murder to al-Qaida recruits and to the entire world."
Abu Ghaith's attorney, Stanley Cohen, countered in his closing that there was no evidence his client played any significant role in al-Qaida in the aftermath of Sept. 11. He accused prosecutors of seeking to manipulate jurors by showing them a video of the jets crashing in the twin towers and relentlessly referencing 9/11, even though Abu Ghaith isn't charged in the attack.
The video "was designed to sweep you away in anguish and pain and to ask for retaliation," he said.
The defense attorney later warned the jury that prosecutors "want you to return a verdict not based on evidence, but based on fear."
Abu Ghaith, 48, who was brought to New York last year after his capture in Turkey, has pleaded not guilty charges he conspired to kill Americans and provided material support to al-Qaida. The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator, and had no role in plotting more attacks.
On Monday, Cronon argued the evidence against the defendant — including propaganda audio and videotapes of him speaking on behalf of al-Qaida — is overwhelming. He argued that Abu Ghaith's own testimony at the trial amounted to a confession, showing he had full knowledge of the terrorist group's goals and was willing to advance them.
Taking the witness stand last week, Abu Ghaith recounted how he was summoned to meet with bin Laden in a cave on the night of Sept. 11. When the attacks came up in the conversation, bin Laden told him, "We are the ones who did it," he testified.
"I want to deliver a message to the world. ... I want you to deliver that message," Abu Ghaith said bin Laden told him.
The next day, Abu Ghaith was recorded sitting next to bin Laden and saying, "We are capable of engaging in this confrontation." The jury also heard audio from October 2001 of the defendant warning, "The storm of airplanes will not stop" — evidence that the government alleged showed the defendant knew in advance about the failed shoe-bomb airline attack by Richard Reid in December 2001.
Cronan cited a televised 2002 interview in which Abu Ghaith assured his audience that bin Laden was in good health, arguing it was further proof the defendant was a trusted al-Qaida insider.
"How many people on the planet knew Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man on the planet, was in good health?" Cronan said.
His job with al-Qaida at that point was "to tell the world, 'We're not dead. It's still worth coming to Afghanistan and fighting with us,'" the prosecutor said.
The judge rejected defense efforts to called the self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, as a witness. In a statement written from his Guantanamo Bay cell, Mohammed has said Abu Ghaith had no role in al-Qaida's military operations.
Prosecutors were expected to give a rebuttal argument before jury deliberations begin.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.