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 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 10:20 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
updated 8:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
updated 5:34 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 9:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT