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 2:32 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Tichleman 1
A makeup artist, writer and model who loves monkeys and struggles with demons.
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Lionel Messi's ability is not in question -- but will the World Cup final allow him to emerge from another footballing legend's shadow?
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Why are Iraqi politicians dragging their feet while ISIS militants fortify their foothold across the country?
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
An elephant, who was chained for 50 years, cries tears of joy after being freed in India. CNN's Sumnima Udas reports.
updated 3:32 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
updated 6:49 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
CNN's Ravi Agrawal asks whether Narendra Modi can harness the country's potential to finally deliver growth.
updated 12:44 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Israel has deployed its Iron Dome defense system to halt incoming rockets. Here's how it works.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
updated 12:34 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
People walk with their luggage at the Maiquetia international airport that serves Caracas on July 3, 2014. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Plane passengers are used to paying additional fees, but one airport in Venezuela is now charging for the ultimate hidden extra -- air.
ADVERTISEMENT