A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and spokesman for
terrorist group al-Qaeda pleaded not guilty Friday to one terrorism
charge in a New York City courtroom.
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, who is charged with conspiracy to kill US citizens, appeared in court during a 15-minute hearing. He arrived in the United States on March 1 after being arrested on February 28, reportedly in Turkey.
If found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to life in prison.
During the arraignment on Friday, US District Judge Lewis A Kaplan appointed public defenders for Ghaith and set a date for a conference early April to give the defence enough time to study the unclassified discovery submitted by the prosecution.
The discovery contains a 22-page statement Ghaith made after he was detained and a number of video and audio recordings of him speaking on behalf of al-Qaeda.
Sitting between his defence lawyers, Ghaith seemed resigned as he listened to the translator detail the charge against him.
The White House defended the decision to try him in a civilian court rather than send him to Guantanamo.
Spokesman Josh Earnest pointed to a "broad consensus across the United States government" to use a civilian court and said there was a "strong track record" of using such courts against other terrorism suspects, including the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and the so-called "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
Obama has vowed to use such courts to achieve justice whenever possible, he said.
Ghaith, who is married to one of bin Laden's daughters, had been part of al-Qaeda since at least May 2001, the Justice Department said in the indictment, which was revealed Thursday.
He urged others to swear allegiance to the terrorist group and acted as the group's spokesman, warning of attacks similar to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the indictment against him said.
In a video from September 12, 2001, Ghaith appeared along al-Qaeda leaders and told Americans that a "a great army is gathering against you," Kaplan quoted the prosecution Friday.
In the video, he was seated alongside bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda at the time, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda.
He called for Muslims to battle "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans." He later warned the US that "the storms shall not stop, especially the airplanes storm."
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