New York: Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who once served as a spokesman for al-Qaeda, has been captured and brought to the US, where he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in a court on Friday after being charged with conspiracy to kill Americans.
47 year-old Ghaith, who is married to one of bin Laden`s daughters, Fatima, appeared before Judge Lewis A Kaplan of US District Court in the cavernous ceremonial courtroom in Lower Manhattan, only blocks from the site of the 9/11 terror attack.
Ghaith, a slight, trim man with a grey beard and dressed in a blue prison smock, barely spoke aside from some one-word replies to questions from the judge during the 20-minute arraignment. His lawyer pleaded not guilty on his behalf, the New York Times reported.
Federal prosecutors asked that Abu Ghaith remain in custody. His lawyer did not challenge the request, but left open the possibility of making a bail application later.
The judge said he would set a trial date of April 8. Prosecutors said a trial would last about three weeks.
Justice Department officials described Ghaith as a propagandist who they believe has not had an operational role in al-Qaeda for years and did not participate in the attacks on September 11, 2001, or in any plots against the US.
But one law enforcement official said that Ghaith was the most senior Qaeda figure to face criminal trial in New York since America`s war against the terrorist network began.
He was married to one of Bin Laden`s daughters, Fatima, and the indictment alleges a working relationship with the terrorist group`s leader, who was killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011.
"Among other things, Abu Ghaith urged others to swear allegiance to Bin Laden, spoke on behalf of and in support of al-Qaeda`s mission, and warned that attacks similar to those of September 11, 2001 would continue," according to the indictment.
John P Cronan, one of the prosecutors, told Judge Kaplan that Ghaith made extensive comments to law enforcement officials after his arrest. Abu Ghaith gave an "extensive post-arrest statement" that totaled 22 pages and arrived in the US on March 1, Cronan said.
Cronan also referred to audio recordings of statements Ghaith made to foreign authorities, some of which he said still need to be translated.
Details about Ghaith`s arrest were sketchy but New York Times quoting unnamed officials said he was originally detained last month while staying in a hotel in Ankara, Turkey, after crossing the border from Iran, where he had been living for about a decade.
"No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America`s enemies to justice," Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters here.
"To violent extremists who threaten the American people and seek to undermine our way of life, this arrest sends an unmistakable message: There is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice because we will do everything in our power to hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law," he said.
The arrest of Abu Ghaith is an important "milestone" in our ongoing counter-terrorism efforts, said the Assistant US Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
"It has been 13 years since Abu Ghaith allegedly worked alongside Osama bin Laden in his campaign of terror, and during the period he allegedly took to the public airwaves, exhorting others to embrace al-Qaeda`s cause and warning of more terrorist attacks like the mass murder of 9/11," US Attorney, Preet Bharara said.
"The memory of those attacks is indelibly etched on the American psyche, and today`s action is the latest example of our commitment to capture and punish the enemies of the United States, no matter how long it takes," Bharara said.
According to the indictment unsealed in the Court, from May 2001 to 2002, Ghaith served alongside Osama bin Laden, appearing with him and his then-deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, speaking on behalf of the terrorist organisation and in support of its mission, and warning that attacks similar to those of September 11, 2001 would continue.
After the 9/11 attack, bin Laden summoned Ghaith and asked for his assistance and he agreed to provide it, it said.
On the morning of September 12, 2001, he spoke on behalf of the al-Qaeda, warning the US and its allies that "(a) great army is gathering against you" and called upon "the nation of Islam" to do battle against "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans".
Regarding his arrest, the NYT said, Turkish officials had rebuffed demands by the Obama administration to directly hand him over to the US, choosing instead to deport him to Kuwait, his home country.
"On a stopover in Amman, Jordan, American officials took him into custody and flew him to New York. Jordan`s spy service, the General Intelligence Directorate, is one of the Central Intelligence Agency`s closest partners in the Middle East," it said.