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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Accused 9/11 Mastermind Won’t Testify at Terror Trial

MANHATTAN (CN) - Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, can't testify at the trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith's attorneys sought closed-circuit videoed testimony of Mohammed from his prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But the government argued that Mohammed has said publicly that he will not testify, and that the defense was just dragging its feet on something it knows will never happen.

Mohammed had written in a response to Abu Ghaith's lawyers that Abu Ghaith did not play a military role in al-Qaida, which buoyed the defense's claims that he did not know of future attacks when he warned Americans in post-9/11 propaganda videos that "the storm of airplanes will not abate."

The only thing Mohammed could offer is "90 degrees off the mark," U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said. "For Khalid Sheik Mohammed to testify that he never met Abu Ghaith is totally off the point."

Abu Ghaith faces life in prison if convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material aid to a known terrorist group. The high-ranking al-Qaida leader is said to have served as the spokesman for al-Qaida after the attacks, and to have been hand-picked by Osama bin Laden.

Abu Ghaith, who married bin Laden's oldest daughter, Fatima, five years ago, has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys blamed the delay in producing Mohammed's testimony on the government, for using red-tape policies on accessing inmates as "a sword, not a shield" to set up "roadblocks to make things difficult."

In urging the judge to block Mohammed's testimony, U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin said, "They have no witness, judge. What are we doing?"

Kaplan agreed, and said that Abu Ghaith's attorneys "knew jolly well how to get to the right person if they wanted. Instead, they sat on their hands."

Kaplan said Mohammed's testimony that Abu Ghaith might not have known about future terrorist attacks after 9/11 "doesn't touch it, not with a 10-foot pole."

"This is much ado about nothing," he said.

It was the eighth day of trial against Abu Ghaith in a high-rise courtroom just blocks from One World Trade, where the World Trade Center once stood.

Neither Abu Ghaith nor the jury was present during Tuesday's proceedings.

The trial continues Wednesday.

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