A federal judge in Manhattan yesterday sentenced Osama bin Laden son-in-law Suleiman Abu Ghaith to life in prison after the former al-Qaida spokesman said in a defiant, threatening speech that he would not live "on his knees."
Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti imam who sat beside bin Laden in a notorious cave-side video made Sept. 12, 2001, and was convicted this year of conspiracy to kill Americans, told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan he would not "ask for mercy from anyone except God."
"At the same moment when you are shackling my hands and intend to bury me alive, you are at the same time unleashing the hands of hundreds of Muslim youths and removing the dust from their minds, and they will join the rally of the free men," he warned.
Dressed in a blue jail smock, orange T-shirt and white skullcap and speaking to the judge through a translator, Abu Ghaith peppered his comments with references to the Quran as he shrugged off the significance of his sentence.
"Soon, and very soon, the whole world will see the end of these theater plays that are known as trials," Abu Ghaith added. "You and your government can decree whatever you wish to decree. . . . . Nothing will befall us except what Allah has ordained."
Although Abu Ghaith, 48, was not convicted of involvement in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2011, or any other specific attack, prosecutors said he was just as dangerous because he used his fiery rhetoric to recruit fighters in al-Qaida videos, and had prior knowledge of some post-Sept. 11 plots.
Kaplan rejected defense arguments that Abu Ghaith should get only 15 years because he did nothing more than give speeches, saying he was a "zealous advocate" for al-Qaida and was completely committed to its jihadist agenda.
"You have evidenced no remorse whatsoever," the judge said. "You used your talents to recruit fighters to kill Americans, women, children, entirely innocent people. You haven't evidenced any doubt about the justification for what was done, and as of 15 minutes ago you continue to threaten."
In testimony at his trial in March, Abu Ghaith said he met bin Laden during a trip to Afghanistan in 2001, became friendly, and was summoned after Sept. 11 to articulate religious "bullet points" for the al-Qaida leader.
He said he merely recited Muslim principles of self-defense, but prosecutors played tapes where he called for "jihad against Americans" and predicted an " 'airplanes storm' against America."
After 2001, he was imprisoned in Iran for more than 10 years, and delivered to U.S. custody in February 2013. In addition to conspiracy, he was convicted of providing material support to terrorists.
Officials from New York and Washington praised the life sentence yesterday. "Justice has been served," Attorney General Eric Holder said.