An artist sketch shows Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a militant who appeared in videos as a spokesman for al Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks, appearing at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan March. Credit: Reuters
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, went on trial in New York on Monday, becoming one of the highest-profile defendants to face terrorism charges in the United States.
Prosecutors have accused the Kuwaiti-born Abu Ghaith, 48, of recording videos in Afghanistan on behalf of al Qaeda immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, threatening further violence against Americans.
Defense lawyers argue that the government cannot prove that Abu Ghaith had any involvement in or knowledge of plots to kill U.S. citizens.
Jury selection began on Monday and should be completed by Wednesday, with opening statements from both sides expected to take place later that day or soon after. The trial is expected to last around a month.
The bearded Abu Ghaith, who could receive life in prison if convicted, sat quietly during the morning, wearing a beige suit and listening to an interpreter translate the proceedings into Arabic.
Nearly 50 prospective jurors gathered in a Manhattan courtroom, where the newly constructed One World Trade Center was visible through one of the windows.
As in several other terrorism trials in the United States, the jury will remain anonymous. During questioning from U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, potential jurors were asked to refrain from revealing any identifying information, such as their names or employers.
Kaplan asked a series of questions about al Qaeda, potential witnesses and other issues, seeking to determine whether any of them had biases that would affect their ability to remain impartial.
The prospective jurors had already provided answers to written questions before arriving at court on Monday, including whether they had strong feelings about terrorism that would make it hard for them to be fair.
In the afternoon, one candidate, a 56-year-old lawyer, said he had represented several detainees at the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was concerned he would not be able to put those experiences out of his mind when assessing the credibility of any potential witnesses from Guantanamo.
Another potential juror, a 57-year-old man, said he had known someone who was killed in the September 11 attacks and that he was not sure whether he could remain impartial.
The jury pool members ranged in age from 27 to 76 and included teachers, writers, a chef and a nurse.
Abu Ghaith faces charges of conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide such support.