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 into 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." Jury deliberations were set to begin Tuesday. Abu Ghaith, 48, has pleaded not guilty to 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.
Monday, Cronon argued the evidence against the defendant -- including audio and videotapes of him speaking on behalf of al-Qaida -- is overwhelming. He argued that abu Ghaith's own testimony amounted to a confession.
Abu Ghaith recounted last week 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.