- Last Updated: 11:47 AM, March 8, 2013
- Posted: 10:44 AM, March 8, 2013
A senior al Qaeda leader and son-in-law of Osama bin Laden pleaded not guilty Friday in federal court in New York to plotting against Americans in his role as the terror network's top spokesman.
A subdued Sulaiman Abu Ghaith entered the plea through a lawyer to one count of conspiracy to kill Americans after being captured in Jordan over the past week in a hearing that lasted less than 20 minutes.
Abu Ghaith, seemingly bewildered by his surroundings, entered the court wearing navy blue prison scrubs and was handcuffed behind his back.
Abu Ghaith was secretly captured in Jordan and brought to New York to face justice.
Manhattan Federal Prosecutor John Cronan said Abu Ghaith was transferred to US custody before midnight on Feb. 28 and arrived in New York on March 1.
Abu Ghaith gave one word responses to the judge and only answered no when asked if he had sufficient funds to hire an attorney.
He was assigned three federal defenders.
Attorney Philip Weinstein refused to answer questions after the hearing saying, "Anything we're going to say, we'll say in court."
Abu Ghaith was held without bail and is set to return to court April 8. The judge is expected to set a trial date at that time.
Cronan said Abu Ghaith made a 22-page long statement to law enforcement personal after he was arrested and a number of DVD and audio recordings were also recovered.
Prosecutors said the defense was given transcripts for seven of the recordings.
The case marks a legal victory for President Obama's administration, which has long sought to charge senior al Qaeda suspects in American federal courts instead of military tribunals at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But it runs counter to demands by Republicans in Congress who do not want high-threat terror suspects brought into the United States.
Rep. Peter King (R-LI) called his capture a “very significant victory” in the war on terror.
He “held a key position in al Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos.
Abu Ghaith was born in Kuwait. The Department of Justice said he was the spokesman for al Qaeda, working alongside bin Laden and current leader Ayman al-Zawahri, since at least May 2001. Abu Ghaith is a former mosque preacher and teacher.
The day after the Sept. 11 attacks, prosecutors say, he appeared with bin Laden and al-Zawahri and called on the "nation of Islam" to battle against Jews, Christians and Americans.