A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and a high-ranking al Qaeda figure who threatened that violence against the United States would continue after the September 11, 2001 attacks, pleaded not guilty on Friday to a charge of conspiracy to kill Americans.
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a militant who once appeared in videos as a spokesman for al Qaeda, made his initial appearance in District Court in Manhattan, only blocks from the site of the hijacked plane strikes on the World Trade Center.
The son-in-law of bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks who was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan in 2011, was captured on February 28 and brought secretly into the United States on March 1, prosecutors said in court. Government sources said he was arrested in Turkey.
The balding, bearded Abu Ghaith was led handcuffed into the crowded courtroom, the largest in the courthouse. Dressed in dark blue prison garb, he appeared to be cooperative and follow the proceedings closely through an interpreter, frequently nodding.
He spoke twice, answering "Yes" when Judge Lewis Kaplan asked him if he understood the accusations and "Yes" when asked if he wanted court-appointed lawyers. The lawyers are Philip Weinstein and Martin Cohen. Weinstein entered a not guilty plea on Abu Ghaith's behalf.
Evidence against Abu Ghaith, one of the highest-ranking al Qaeda figures to be brought to the United States to face a civilian trial, includes videos, audio recordings and a 22-page transcript of remarks he has made to law enforcement, prosecutors said.
They said a trial could last three weeks. A trial date will be set at a hearing on April 8.
The judge read aloud from the indictment, which accuses Abu Ghaith of urging allegiance to bin Laden and threatening attacks similar to September 11 against the United States.
The indictment said Abu Ghaith delivered a speech that included "the storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm" and advised Muslims "not to board aircraft and not to live in high rises."
Abu Ghaith stood while the judge was speaking but partway through reading the details of the charge, the judge broke off and told him he could sit.
The indictment accuses Abu Ghaith of acting in a conspiracy that "would and did murder United States nationals anywhere in the world," listing actions before and after September 11, 2001.
Attorney General Eric Holder previously had announced plans to try defendants in the September 11 attacks in the same federal courthouse where Abu Ghaith appeared. But public opposition forced him to back down, and the trials were moved to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.