'We Were Supposed to Bring Down Flights,' Witness at Terrorism Trial Says
MANHATTAN (CN) - A British man testifying on Monday at the trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law said he planned to blow up a plane on a domestic flight on a suicide mission, along with "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid, after the Sept. 11 attacks, but bailed on the plan at the last minute.
"I was supposed to fly to the United States of America" in December 2001, Saajid Badat testified from London via live video during the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who is accused of conspiring to kill Americans and supporting a terrorist organization.
Badat outlined plans that he said bin Laden and "five to 10" others hatched to "destroy an airplane." "We were supposed to bring down flights," he said.
He said he "spoke to Osama bin Laden" in September or early October 2001, and that bin Laden and about "five to 10 people" were "talking about this particular mission," and that he and Reid were to be given an "explosive device."
"But I did not get that far" - not far enough to learn how the plan would unfold, he testified.
Badat, who was convicted in London in 2005 of conspiring to harm an aircraft and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, said he "backed out of the plot" in December 2001.
Reid did not back out. On Dec. 22, 2001, his shoe bomb failed to detonate during a flight. Reid was arrested upon landing in Boston.
Badat was not able to testify in person in the Manhattan courtroom - a high-rise just a few blocks from the World Trade Center - because he's still wanted in the United States.
His sentence in London was reduced to five years in exchange for his cooperation with British authorities, and he was released in March 2010.
He testified that, depending on how the plot progressed with al-Qaida higher-ups, he and Reid were to board separate domestic flights with explosives hidden in their shoes and detonate them.
The second option was to detonate planes on transatlantic flights.
"The third was to look for flights across Europe," he said.
Badat talked about his extensive weapons and intelligence training, how he learned to make bombs and the treatment he received at so-called "guest houses" run by al-Qaida, which he described as "mansions with a front garden, a main courtyard surrounded by many small rooms."
Such camps were "the first point of entry" to al-Qaida.
"It was from where you departed" on a mission and to where you returned, he said. "For some people, it was just a place to relax."
Monday was the third day of trial against Abu Ghaith, who is married to bin Laden's oldest daughter, Fatima.
Prosecutors played a tape featuring Abu Ghaith, speaking on behalf of al-Qaida, warning that a "great army is gathering against you," and that "the nation of Islam" will do battle with "the Jews, the Christians and the Americans."
Prosecutors want to use Badat's testimony to illustrate that Abu Ghaith was privy to al-Qaida's plans to deliver more terrorist attacks after 9/11, and that his threats were not idle.
Abu Ghaith is believed to be the highest-ranking member of al-Qaida to go to trial in the United States.
On Monday, he sat mostly motionless in a gray suit and white dress shirt during testimony, occasionally taking notes and fiddling with a translating device in his ear.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Also Monday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan revealed to the packed courtroom that he used his muscle to have a juror rehired to her job after it was discovered last week that she was fired because of her involvement in the case.
Kaplan said he appointed her an attorney "with a major law firm," and she was rehired.
"It's important for people to know that the court has ample means of dealing with things like this, and will do so," Kaplan said, citing federal law that makes it illegal to fire someone for serving on jury duty.