“I wanted to get to know that person. I wanted to see what … is it that he wanted,” Abu Ghaith said. “It’s impolite when you get invited by someone that you decline.”
He agreed to give lectures—a kind of spiritual training—to recruits at al Qaeda camps, but said he never officially joined the group, and he denied knowing “specifically” about the planes plot during the summer of 2001.
“I had heard something could happen, but I didn’t know exactly what,” Abu Ghaith testified.
“You knew something big was coming from al Qaeda?” pressed prosecutor Michael Ferrara on cross-examination.
“Yes,” Abu Ghaith said.
Sounding incredulous that Abu Ghaith had reunited with bin Laden on the evening of 9/11, Ferrara went on: “You knew on September 11th that thousands of people had been killed, did you not?”
“I got to know that later on,” Abu Ghaith said. He continued to call bin Laden “Sheik Osama” as a sign of respect.
In early October, still traveling with bin Laden’s inner circle, Abu Ghaith recorded a second video disseminated worldwide. He discussed 9/11 as the “natural result” of “oppression” of Muslims in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Chechnya. Then he warned Muslims in the U.S. and U.K. not to fly planes or live in tall buildings. He said, “The storm of aircrafts will not stop.”
It sounded like he knew what was coming next, and prosecutors argue Abu Ghaith knew in advance of the shoe bomb plot Richard Reid would attempt to carry out on a Paris-to-Miami flight in December 2001.
Abu Ghaith testified that assertion was wrong. He also denied the prosecution’s accusation that his videos were a recruiting tool. “There‘s no one capable of recruiting anyone except Osama bin Laden. My intention was not to recruit anyone,” Abu Ghaith testified. “I wanted to proclaim the message that Muslims had to bear responsibility and defend themselves.”
Bin Laden founded al Qaeda, an Arabic word meaning “the base,” in 1989 amidst the ashes of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that was repelled by Muslim fighters known as mujahideen, or “holy warriors.” The support of “Arab Afghans” like the rich Saudi exile bin Laden boosted their ranks.
Gradually, bin Laden redirected his followers’ collective thirst for jihad, or “holy war,” toward the United States, as he became enraged by American troop deployments in Muslim nations from Saudi Arabia to Somalia. His favorite metaphor for the U.S. was a snake whose head needed to be chopped off. Bin Laden escalated his rhetoric in a pair of late 1990s fatwahs, or religious decrees, declaring war on the U.S. and sanctioning attacks on Americans anywhere in the world.
After the U.S. retaliated for 9/11 with the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Abu Ghaith agreed to make more propaganda videos, he testified, “to reduce the amount of attack on us, on me, and these poor [Afghan] people that they have no way of defending themselves.”