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Son-in-Law of Bin Laden Pleads Not Guilty in New York Civilian Court

March 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: An associate and family member of Osama bin Laden appeared in a New York courtroom today.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Outside, police vehicles with flashing lights guarded the federal court building in Lower Manhattan, while inside, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, alleged to have been a spokesman for al-Qaida, pled not guilty to a single count of conspiring to kill Americans.

The 47-year-old Kuwaiti was a Muslim preacher, al-Qaida follower and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden. He allegedly appeared with bin Laden the day after the 9/11 attacks, urging Muslims to attack Christians, Jews and Americans. And a short time later, he gave this speech.

SULAIMAN ABU GHAITH, Al-Qaida: The storm of planes will not stop. There are thousands of young Muslims who desire martyrdom in the path of Allah.

MARGARET WARNER: Federal prosecutors say, in 2002, Abu Ghaith left Afghanistan for Iran, where he’s lived since. Then, last month, he traveled to Ankara, Turkey, only to be detained and deported to Kuwait.

But during a stopover in Amman, Jordan, he was nabbed by U.S. authorities and flown to New York to face charges in federal court. That move drew criticism from some Republicans, who argued that terror suspects should be tried by military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: You’re putting people like this into federal court, giving them the same constitutional rights as an American citizen.

MARGARET WARNER: Similar objections in 2010 forced Attorney General Eric Holder to back down from plans to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York. But, today, a White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, defended going to civilian court.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Deputy Press Spokesman: They are a — in many ways, a more efficient way for us to deliver justice to those who seek to harm the United States of America.

MARGARET WARNER: Abu Ghaith was returned to prison today. A trial date will be set next month.