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Suleiman Abu Ghaith, al-Qaida spokesman, recounted bin Laden meetings, FBI agent testifies

This frame grab from the Saudi-owned television network

This frame grab from the Saudi-owned television network MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) shows Suleiman Abu Ghaith, the alleged spokesman of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, claiming responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States in an undated videotape broadcast by the Dubai-based MBC on April 17, 2002. Credit: Getty Images / Middle East Broadcasting Center

Former al-Qaida spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith admitted that he agreed to help Osama bin Laden in 2001 while he was being interrogated during a 14-hour flight to the United States after his arrest last year, an FBI agent testified Thursday.

FBI agent Michael Butsch, who questioned the cuffed and shackled Abu Ghaith for an estimated nine to 10 hours, said the prisoner admitted bin Laden "took a liking to him" when they met in 2001, and summoned him shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bin Laden asked him to give a series of speeches on behalf of al-Qaida, and he agreed to do so," Butsch said of Abu Ghaith. "He said that bin Laden gave him bullet points and his job was to develop a speech around those bullet points."

Abu Ghaith, 48, a fiery Kuwaiti religious scholar who eventually married bin Laden's daughter, is charged in federal court in Manhattan with conspiracy to kill Americans and conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida.

Prosecutors say he used his rhetorical skills in the aftermath of the terror attacks -- including a video he appeared in with bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders -- to recruit fighters and rail against the United States.

Abu Ghaith acknowledged making the video, the agent testified, saying that earlier in 2001 he met bin Laden in Afghanistan and, while declining to swear an oath of allegiance or be a "soldier" for al-Qaida, he promised to help out as an "orator."

"Bin Laden wanted to attract more people from the Gulf region," Butsch said he was told by Abu Ghaith. "He felt Mr. Abu Ghaith would be helpful in these areas."

He said Abu Ghaith also portrayed himself as more of a scholar than a fighter, with a more nuanced view of jihad than bin Laden and al-Qaida. "He equated their mindset to President Bush, when President Bush said you're with us or against us," Butsch testified.

Defense lawyers said Thursday that they have received written answers to questions about Abu Ghaith's role in al-Qaida from Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is imprisoned at the Guan- tánamo Bay military prison.

It is not yet known what the responses say, or whether U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan will allow them to be presented to the jury.

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