Bin Laden aide arraigned in plot to kill Americans
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Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, wearing a dark blue prison uniform and handcuffed behind his back, was brought into U.S. District Court, only blocks from the site of the World Trade Center.
Bald, with a full gray beard, Abu Ghaith, 47, did not say much during the 20-minute arraignment other than to reply, through an Arabic interpreter, yes or no to questions from Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Cronan said Abu Ghaith, accused of being part of al-Qaida's inner circle, was arrested overseas on Feb. 28 and brought to New York on March 1. The prosecutor said the suspect gave an "extensive post-arrest statement" to authorities, totaling 22 pages.
Cronan, who said Abu Ghaith also made statements to foreign authorities, which were recorded, provided no details about what was said.
Kaplan read aloud excerpts from the indictment, which accuses Abu Ghaith, a preacher, of appearing with bin Laden, and bin Laden's then-deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The government alleges that Abu Ghaith, speaking on behalf of al-Qaida, warned the United States and its allies that a "great army is gathering against you" and called upon "the Nation of Islam" to do battle against "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans."
Under tight security by U.S. marshals, Abu Ghaith was arraigned on one count of conspiracy to kill United States nationals, a crime that carries a maximum punishment of life in prison.
In court, Kaplan asked Abu Ghaith if he understood his rights.
"Yes," Abu Ghaith answered, through the interpreter.
The decision to bring Abu Ghaith to New York reignited the debate about the disposition of al-Qaida suspects, with senior Republicans in Congress denouncing the decision to try him in a civil criminal court rather than a military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2009, the Obama administration wanted to try five alleged terrorists, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in Manhattan, but the move was widely criticized. The defendants are instead being tried at Guantánamo Bay.
The decision to put Abu Ghaith on trial here, however, has drawn little local opposition.
Prosecutors will need about three weeks to present their case at trial, Cronan told the judge. He asked that matter be postponed for a month to allow the government to review classified material in the case.
Defense attorney Philip Weinstein said he will have a better idea how much time the defense needs to present its case on April 8, when the judge said he intends to set a trial date.