Osama bin Laden's son-in-law said Wednesday that he wants to be defended on terrorism charges in federal court in Manhattan by an activist lawyer who is himself under criminal indictment.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan that he wanted Stanley Cohen, best known for resisting the extradition of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk to Israel to stand trial for bombings, to replace federal public defenders appointed to defend him. He said his brother in Kuwait had already paid Cohen a retainer.
The judge warned the one-time al-Qaida spokesman that the lawyer faced a potential conflict of interest because of his own legal troubles.
"I'm ready to take that risk," Abu Ghaith answered, telling the judge he thought the government was trying to make him "afraid" to hire Cohen and an associate. Kaplan said he would decide whether to allow the substitution next week.
Abu Ghaith, 47, is charged with plotting to kill Americans overseas. Officials say he is the most senior leader of al-Qaida ever to go on trial in New York, but they have not accused him of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or operational leadership of other plots.
He was overseas when he was arrested in late February, and gave an extensive statement before being brought to court last month.
Cohen said after the hearing that he had represented accused terrorists more than 50 times in the United States and had come to the attention of Abu Ghaith's relatives because of that work."I've probably done more terrorism cases than any lawyer in the country," he said.
The tax charges were filed more than a year ago, he said, characterizing them as part of a government agenda against him. He said they would not impede his representation of Abu Ghaith, whose trial Kaplan has scheduled for January.