NEW YORK (PIX11) – Osama bin Laden has been dead for nearly two years, but his daughter’s husband, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who has himself been accused of planning and promoting terrorist acts, was alive and well in federal court in New York on Monday for the jury selection in his trial for the terrorist crimes of which he’s accused. With the case being heard ten blocks from the World Trade Center, choosing jurors may be easier said than done.
In fact, during jury selection on Monday, one man in the potential jury pool told the judge that he had done work at the terrorist detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another had said that he was the father of multiple NYPD officers.
Without a doubt, rare is the New Yorker over the age of 20 who has not had some emotional reaction to the September 11th terror attacks, if such a person exists at all. Osama bin Laden masterminded the mass murders at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Stony Creek, Pennsylvania, but one of the most vocal supporters of the attacks, as well as one of the most prominent advocates for further attacks, was Abu Ghaith.
He was a popular, radical Islamic preacher who, in a speech shortly after the 9/11 attacks, said, “The storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm,” according to the indictment against him. Abu Ghaith, 48, released a series of videos calling for violent jihad against the United States and other entities viewed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations as enemies of Islam.
Abu Ghaith, who is married to bin Laden’s daughter, Fatima, became the mouthpiece of Al Qaeda, according to prosecutors.
They were able to pursue charges against him as a result of U.S. intelligence agents working with contacts in Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East to capture Abu Ghaith a year ago and bring him to New York to stand trial. He faces charges of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support for terrorists.
The sentence he could receive, if found guilty, is up to life in prison. A jury of his peers will determine whether or not he would be found guilty and receive such a sentence, and in his case, his peers are New Yorkers for whom it was impossible to avoid coverage of 9/11, and who may even have connections to victims.
“It’s extraordinarily difficult,” said attorney Ron Kuby in an interview with PIX11 News, “and it’s made more difficult because in federal practice, it’s the judge, not the lawyers, who get to question the prospective jurors.”
Kuby has gained a national reputation for handling a long list of high profile defense cases. One of his best known cases was the representation of the man charged with directing the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the so-called blind cleric.
In that case, Kuby said, “We commissioned jury selection experts to do studies all across the country to see where we’d get the most favorable jury pool.” The result, he told PIX11, was “right here in Manhattan.”
He said that, for a defense lawyer, the ideal juror is somebody who is very skeptical and questioning of information conveyed by the government. “New York is full of eight million of them here.”
Abu Ghaith’s attorney, Stanley Cohen, told PIX11 News at the end of the court day Monday that he is convinced that his client can get a fair trial by a New York jury. “When they look at the facts of the case,” he said, “they’ll see that this is not a case about 9/11.”
Instead, Cohen pointed out, it’s a terror and conspiracy case in which he feels the evidence will exonerate his Abu Ghaith.
Jury selection is expected to continue Tuesday. Opening arguments are expected to begin Wednesday in a trial that could last for weeks.