A son-in-law of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was formally charged Friday at a federal court house in the Southern District of New York. He pleaded “not guilty” to charges of conspiring to kill Americans. U.S. officials believe he worked with bin Laden from about May 2001 until 2002, including the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
In an indictment unsealed Thursday in New York City, federal authorities described Abu Ghaith, 47, as having a working relationship with bin Laden and acting as a spokesman for the organization. Abu Ghaith was married to bin Laden’s oldest daughter, Fatima.
“Abu Ghaith urged others to swear allegiance to bin Laden, spoke on behalf of and in support of al Qaeda’s mission, and warned that attacks similar to those of September 11, 2001, would continue,” according to the indictment. Around May 2001, he “urged individuals at a guest house in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to swear an oath of allegiance to [Osama] bin Laden” and offered his assistance to the al-Qaida leader, the indictment states. The indictment also says that bin Laden summoned Abu Ghaith on the evening of September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan.
The indictment points to a speech given on the morning of September 12, 2001, in which Abu Ghaith, bin Laden himself, and bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, spoke on behalf of al-Qaida and “warned the U.S. 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.’”
After September 11, 2001, Abu Ghaith warned America that “the storms shall not stop, especially the Airplanes Storm,” and, according to the indictment, warned Muslims, children, and opponents of the U.S. “not to board any aircraft and not to live in high rises.”
While details of Abu Ghaith’s render to the United States remain murky, Jordanian sources confirmed to NBC News Thursday that Abu Ghaith was sent by Turkey to Kuwait via Jordan, where he was intercepted and transferred to New York City. He reportedly has spent most of the last decade living in Iran. Though he is a Kuwaiti national by birth, the Kuwaiti government revoked his citizenship after he published an inflammatory fatwa, or religious edict, urging Muslims to fight “Jews, Americans and all their allies” in a Kuwaiti newspaper, AP reported in 2001.
Since news of the transfer became public Thursday, Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the decision to try the suspected terrorist on U.S. soil rather than in front of a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, where most suspected al Qaeda members have been held over the past decade.
“I think we’re now setting a new precedent that will come back to bite us,” Sen. Lindsay Graham said at a press conference held jointly with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Thursday. “This administration seems averse to the idea of treating future captures like this as enemy combatants. By taking that option off the table, you’re putting people like this into federal court, giving them the same constitutional rights as an American citizen. But more than anything else, you’re destroying the ability to hold them under the law for warfare intelligence-gathering purposes.”
According to The New York Times, Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Cronan cited a 22-page document detailing Abu Ghaith’s statements to law enforcement officials following his arrest during Friday’s court session.
Abu Ghaith is next scheduled to appear in court on April 8th. He is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan.