NEW YORK — Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, the voice of fiery al-Qaeda propaganda videotapes after the Sept. 11 attacks, was convicted Wednesday of conspiring to kill Americans for his role as the terrorist group’s spokesman.
The verdict came after about six hours of deliberation over two days in the case against Kuwaiti imam Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda figure to face trial on U.S. soil since the 2001 attacks.
As a court deputy read the verdict aloud, Abu Ghaith, listening to an Arabic interpreter through earphones, remained composed, as he had throughout the trial. Just before he was led from the courtroom, he turned toward a spectator — a longtime friend from Kuwait — and smiled.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he hoped the verdict brought some measure of comfort to al-Qaeda victims.
“He was more than just Osama bin Laden’s propaganda minister,” Bharara said. “Within hours after the devastating 9/11 attacks, Abu Ghaith was using his position in al-Qaeda’s homicidal hierarchy to persuade others to pledge themselves to al-Qaeda in the cause of murdering more Americans.”
Stanley Cohen, Abu Ghaith’s attorney, emerged from court promising to appeal.
Abu Ghaith had testified during a three-week trial that he answered bin Laden’s request in the hours after the attacks to speak on the widely circulated videos used to recruit new followers willing to go on suicide missions like the 19 who hijacked four planes on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The storm of airplanes will not stop,” Abu Ghaith warned in an October 2001 video that was played for the jury.
Also shown repeatedly to the jury were frames of a video made Sept. 12, 2001, that showed Abu Ghaith seated next to bin Laden and two other top al-Qaeda leaders as they tried to justify the attacks.
Sentencing was set for Sept. 8. The charges — conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide support to al-Qaeda and providing support to the terrorist group — carry a potential penalty of life in prison.
Cohen complained outside court that U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rushed the verdict by warning jurors at the start of deliberations Wednesday that he might direct them to stay late if they were not finished by 4:30 p.m.
Cohen said the judge’s instruction sent a message to the jury: “You should be done. This is a no-brainer.”
“It’s terribly coercive,” the lawyer said.