NEW YORK -- Jurors in the trial of a Kuwaiti-born cleric accused of having been a high-ranking Al Qaeda spokesman watched him on video Monday praising the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and warning the United States that “the storm of airplanes will not abate."
Prosecutors showed portions of two videos, made in October 2001, to bolster their case against Sulaiman abu Ghaith, who is charged with conspiracy to kill Americans and providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda.
They allege that Abu Ghaith’s statements in the videos show he knew in advance about post-Sept. 11 terrorist plots against the United States, including a December 2001 attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner using explosives hidden in a bomber’s shoes.
The shoe bomber, Richard Reid, was caught as he tried to detonate his explosives on a Paris-Miami flight. He is serving a life prison term. His admitted accomplice, Saajid Badat, backed out of his own shoe-bomb mission, and on Monday he began testifying about his years undergoing terror training in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors say Badat, a British citizen, will help tie Abu Ghaith to other Al Qaeda leaders and to the shoe bomb plot. He resumes his testimony Tuesday.
Badat, 34, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in the United Kingdom in 2005 and served five years in prison. He testified via video from the UK because he is under indictment in the United States for plotting to blow up a jetliner.
In his testimony, Badat said he encountered the Al Qaeda leader, Bin Laden, at least 20 times during his roughly three years in Afghanistan. He described a murky world of moving between Al Qaeda-run guesthouses and training camps, meeting Al Qaeda leaders, and learning such skills as how to fire an AK-47 and how to rappel down a wall while holding a weapon.
In Afghanistan, Badat said, one high-ranking Al Qaeda member told him: “If you want to take part in attacks on Jews and Americans, we can also arrange that."
Badat said he did not take him up on the offer.
Earlier Monday, another prosecution witness, Sahim Alwan, finished testifying about his abbreviated terrorist training in Afghanistan in spring 2001. Alwan said he saw Abu Ghaith once, in a Al Qaeda-run guesthouse.
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Geoffrey Stewart tried to cast Alwan as a liar. He noted that Alwan never told his wife or parents in upstate New York that he was traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan in spring 2001.
Stewart also asked Alwan why he failed to disclose details of his Afghanistan training, or of his three encounters with Bin Laden, to the FBI in late 2001, after he had agreed to cooperate with the agency.
“I didn’t want to get in trouble,” said Alwan.
Alwan, 41, ended up serving nearly eight years in prison for providing material support to Al Qaeda and was released in July 2010.
Abu Ghaith, 48, has pleaded not guilty to three terrorism-related charges. He faces life in prison if convicted.