Skip to main content

Osama bin Laden's son-in-law denies terror charges

By Michael Pearson and Susan Candiotti, CNN
updated 5:56 PM EST, Fri March 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sulaiman Abu Ghaith gave investigators a 22-page statement, prosecutors say
  • NEW: They say evidence in the case has been sealed
  • Abu Ghaith is accused of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals
  • After 9/11 attacks, he warned that "the storms shall not stop, especially, the airplane storms"

New York (CNN) -- Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who once sat next to the terror leader and bellicosely threatened the United States, softly answered a judge's questions Friday.

Prosecutors say Sulaiman Abu Ghaith conspired to kill Americans as part of bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network, according to a federal indictment unveiled Thursday.

Through his attorney, the Kuwaiti pleaded not guilty to the charges in a federal courtroom in New York on Friday, nearly a week after his arrest.

Read the indictment

A member of bin Laden's inner circle, Abu Ghaith had spent most of his time since the September 11 terrorist attacks in Iran, according to the federal indictment.

Bin Laden's son-in-law held in New York
Controversy over Abu Ghaith in NYC court
Osama bin Laden's son-in-law in court
Wyden: U.S. wants tough terror approach

Before joining al Qaeda in 2001, he taught high school and preached in his native Kuwait before he was banned from his mosque for using his sermons to attack the government, according to the U.S. government. He also fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He spent the months before the September 11 attacks recruiting candidates for training in his father-in-law's terror training camps in Afghanistan, according to the indictment.

After the attacks that destroyed the twin World Trade Center towers in New York and heavily damaged the Pentagon in Washington, Abu Ghaith served as al Qaeda's official spokesman.

In a video made the day after the 9/11 attacks, Abu Ghaith sat next to bin Laden and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri -- an AK-47 behind him resting on a rock wall -- urging Muslims to fight "the Jews, the Christians and America."

He later warned that "the storms shall not stop, especially, the airplane storms," and warned Muslims and foes of the United States not to board aircraft or live in high-rise buildings, according to the indictment.

U.S. authorities have charged that Abu Ghaith supported a major attack on America and urged people at a Kandahar, Afghanistan, guest house to swear an oath of allegiance to bin Laden.

While Attorney General Eric Holder said the arrest sends a message to terror suspects that "there is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice," some analysts said Abu Ghaith is small potatoes in the world of international terrorism.

"This is overblown," CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said. "Though he was Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Abu Ghaith is far from a big fish in al Qaeda."

U.S. officials arrested him on February 28 in Jordan, according to a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Prosecutors have not said where he was arrested.

According to a report in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, Turkish officials detained Abu Ghaith on a tip from the CIA after he had slipped into the country from Iran. After deciding he had not committed a crime in Turkey, Turkish officials decided to send him to Kuwait via Jordan. While Abu Ghaith was in Jordan, U.S. officials captured him, the newspaper said.

The U.S. government has not confirmed the report.

Abu Ghaith -- wearing dark prison-issued clothing, his once dark beard sprinkled with gray -- said little during Friday's hearing. He spoke softly through an interpreter, answering "yes" to several questions from the judge.

According to prosecutors, Abu Ghaith gave investigators a 22-page statement after his arrest, but they didn't reveal any of what the terror suspect allegedly said.

Evidence in the case has been sealed, and prosecutors said they were reviewing classified evidence to see if it would be used in Abu Ghaith's trial.

No trial date has yet been set.

The decision to handle Abu Ghaith's case in civilian court has irked some Republicans, who say the Obama administration is setting a bad precedent and missing an opportunity to get valuable intelligence from someone who had been so close to bin Laden, who died in a 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan.

'Nightmare' at home for SEAL who shot bin Laden

"We should treat enemy combatants like the enemy," said Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "The U.S. court system is not the appropriate venue."

The new story of the death of Osama bin Laden

Susan Candiotti reported from New York, Michael Pearson reported and wrote from Atlanta; CNN's Ross Levitt, Barbara Starr, Josh Levs, Joe Sterling, Mike Mount, Phil Gast and Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
ISIS has captured the minds of a new generation of global jihadists. What does it mean for al Qaeda?
updated 11:26 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Think that U.S. President Barack Obama has done a back flip on Iraq and Syria? Think again.
updated 11:38 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Treated with all due respect, volcanoes can offer some stunning vistas. Just don't fall in.
updated 1:22 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
The blogger, the hacker, the PM... and Kim Dotcom? New Zealand's election campaign erupts in scandal.
updated 10:36 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
In the aftermath of that deadly day, the enemy quickly became clear. But now a plurality of extremist threats tests global resolve.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Soviets put stray dogs into orbit. Then, next thing you know...
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Her name is Thokozile Matilda Masipa, and she is the woman who will rule whether Oscar Pistorius is a murderer.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 11:17 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
After months -- if not years -- of speculation, the tech giant's first foray into wearables has arrived. Here are our first impressions.
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Steven Sotloff's family believes ISIS paid rebels to alert the group about his location in Syria.
updated 4:05 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Bali might be a popular tourist destination but there are crowd-free corners worth exploring.
updated 7:20 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Scots are preparing to vote on the future of their country. Will they decide to leave the UK?
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT