An al-Qaida turncoat testified Monday that the terror group's leaders recruited him in Afghanistan for a shoe-bomb suicide attack on airliners at the same time in late 2001 that spokesman Suleiman abu Ghaith issued statements threatening a "storm of planes."
Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, is on trial in federal court in Manhattan, where he is charged with conspiracy to kill Americans and provide material support to al-Qaida. Prosecutors allege he was a recruiter who knew at least some of the group's post-Sept. 11, 2001, terror plots.
Witness Saajib Badat said he didn't know abu Ghaith, but he met from late September to December 2001, with Osama bin Laden and military leader Abu Hafs al Masry and "brainstormed" with Sept. 11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about bombing planes.
"I was supposed to fly to the United States of America," said Badat, who told jurors that "Plan A" was to destroy an airborne U.S. domestic flight, but that the al-Qaida leaders' "backup plans" targeted either a transatlantic flight or a European flight.
Badat, 34, a British citizen, was convicted in the United Kingdom of conspiring with shoe bomber Richard Reid in the 2001 plane plot.
He is now out of prison because of his cooperation with British authorities, but testified by video hookup because he remains under indictment in the United States and feared arrest.
Reid has been imprisoned in the United States since his failed attempt to blow up an airliner.
Before Badat's testimony Monday, prosecutors played clips of two October 2001 speeches by abu Ghaith, 48, the fiery Kuwaiti religious scholar who appeared with bin Laden and al Masry in a notorious Sept. 12 video celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The storms shall not lessen, especially the storm of airplanes," he said in an Oct. 13 clip. "As a word of advice, we strongly advise Muslims in America and Britain . . . not to board aircraft, and we advise them not to live in high rises and tall buildings."
Badat, balding with a neat mustache and a trim gray suit, barely resembled pictures from 15 years ago, when he sported an unkempt black beard. He said he first fell in with al-Qaida in 1999, at 19, when he went to Afghanistan after a religious awakening.
When his testimony resumes Tuesday he is expected to provide more details on his discussions with bin Laden and why, unlike Reid, he did not go through with the plot after flying back to Britain in 2001 with explosives.
In a videotaped deposition played last year at the trial of New York City subway bomb plotter Adis Medunjanin, Badat said bin Laden hoped that in the wake of Sept. 11 additional attacks on planes would devastate the airline industry and the U.S. economy.
He said in that deposition that he was worried about his family, and eventually decided to cooperate with authorities because he concluded that al-Qaida's leaders had manipulated young men like him who went to their training camps in Afghanistan.