Home inContext Al-Qaeda Spokesman Pleads “Not Guilty” in New York

Al-Qaeda Spokesman Pleads “Not Guilty” in New York

Michael Johnson

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, described as the spokesman for Osama Bin Laden, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals on Friday. Abu Ghaith’s trial in federal court will begin on April 8th in Lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

In 2000, Abu Ghaith left his post as an imam in Kuwait and moved to Afghanistan. According to the AP, he became a “strategic player in bin Laden’s inner circle [more] than an operational plotter.” In October 2001, Ghaith responded to the attacks, “the Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing.” Such inflammatory rhetoric helped al-Qaeda recruit followers and raise money. After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Ghaith flead to Iran where he lived under house arrest until 2010.

A man identified as Suleiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. (Photo: REUTERS)

Turkish authorities originally arrested Abu Ghaith for using a fake passport to illegally enter from Iran. Ankara planned to deport the al-Qaeda leader to his home country of Kuwait on March 1st, even though Kuwait already stripped him of his citizenship. On a stopover in Amman, Jordan’s intelligence service assisted the CIA to detain him.

With the targeted killings, especially through the use of drones, the arrest and detention of leading al-Qaeda figures abroad has become increasingly rare. In 2010, the Obama administration declined to continue plans of charging five other men, including accused mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in connection with the 9/11 attacks in Lower Manhattan. Local officials and business leaders, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opposed the trials’ location citing high costs and disruptions to New Yorkers from increased security measures in the area. Others criticized the trials arguing the the domestic court system is not an appropriate venue for enemy combatants such as al-Qaeda leaders.