A Kuwaiti man considered to be a senior adviser to former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found guilty by jury Wednesday morning in New York City of conspiring to kill Americans.
The man, 48-year-old cleric Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Federal prosecutors for the United States government argued at trial that Ghaith worked within the top ranks of the terror group and assumed the role of a spokesman of sorts, appearing in propaganda videotapes released in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda.
Ghaith admitted on trial to being summoned personally by bin Laden in June of 2011, and later took the Al-Qaeda leader’s daughter as an additional wife several years after 9/11. In the interim he appeared in videos released by the organization, including one where he warned Americans that “the storm of airplanes will not abate.”
‘‘The defendant committed himself to Al-Qaeda’s conspiracy to kill Americans, and he worked to drive other people to that conspiracy,” Assistant US Attorney John Cronan said during closing arguments on Monday, the Boston Globe reported.
Ghaith “literally sat at Osama bin Laden’s right hand,” Cronan said, according to the New York Times.
After five hours of deliberating that began a day earlier, on Wednesday morning the jury found Ghaith guilty of all three counts presented by the prosecution: conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide that support. The two lesser of the accounts carried only a maximum of 15 years in prison each, but a conviction with regards to conspiring to kill Americans now opens the possibility for Ghaith to spend the rest of his life in confinement. He has not yet been sentenced.
Ghaith was turned over to US authorities a year ago this month after being arrested by officials in Amman, Jordan.
Last week, Ghaith unexpectedly took the stand in his own case and testified about his relationship with the former Al-Qaeda leader.
“I want to deliver a message to the world. — I want you to deliver the message,” Ghaith quoted bin Laden as telling him on the night of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“He admitted to certain things that we all knew the government would seize upon to support its case,” defense attorney Stanley Cohen said of his client’s testimony during a recent interview with the Jewish Daily Forward. “Abu Ghaith could have just as easily said I don’t know or lied, but he didn’t.”
Ghaith was no more than a “deer in the headlights,” who happened to be “in the wrong place in the wrong time,” Cohen said he believed.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the Al-Qaeda operative and alleged 9/11 mastermind who is currently being held by the US at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp — released a statement during the trial in which he claimed that Ghaith “did not play any military role, and to the best of my knowledge, he did not receive any military training at any of the training camps for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.” The government refused to have KSM’s testimony heard by the court.