- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Osama bin Laden’s hours in a dark Afghanistan cave the evening of the Sept. 11 attacks were brought to light when his son-in-law testified in his own defense at his terrorism trial, portraying the al Qaeda leader as worried and apprehensive as he contemplated how America would respond.

The son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, said the al Qaeda leader asked him hours after the attacks what he thought would happen next.

“Politically, I said, America, if it was proven that you were the one who did this, will not settle until it accomplishes two things: to kill you and topple the state of the Taliban,” Abu Ghaith said he told him.

Bin Laden responded: “You’re being too pessimistic,” Abu Ghaith recalled in a discussion that he said went late into the night.

He said bin Laden had sent a messenger to pick him up earlier on Sept. 11 from a house in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he had watched the news unfold on television. He said bin Laden told him: “We are the ones who did it.”

In this courtroom sketch Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, right, testifies at his trial Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in New York, on charges he conspired to kill Americans and aid al-Qaida as a spokesman for the terrorist group.  Listening to testimony are Judge Lewis Kaplan, upper left, and clerk Andrew Mohan, center left, as an image of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-professed architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, appears on a video monitor. In his surprise testimony, Abu Ghaith recounted the night of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when bin Laden sent a messenger to drive him into a mountainous area for a meeting inside a cave in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Elizabeth Williams)
In this courtroom sketch Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, right, ... more >

He said he had met bin Laden only six or seven times previously before he was brought to the cave in a rough mountainous area.

The surprise testimony Wednesday by Abu Ghaith seemed to soften the image of the one-time Kuwaiti teacher and preacher known for fiery anti-American rhetoric on widely circulated post-attack videos until a prosecutor took his turn, eliciting damaging admissions from the 48-year-old defendant before showing a videotape on which Abu Ghaith spoke and included a hijacked plane slamming into a World Trade Center tower.

Questioned by defense lawyer Stanley Cohen and later by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara, the bearded Abu Ghaith testified that bin Laden seemed worried that night.

The next morning, Abu Ghaith said, he saw bin Laden with an al-Qaida military leader, Abu Hafs al-Masri, and current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at breakfast, and bin Laden invited him to join them.

He said bin Laden told him: “Now, after these events … it’s a no-brainer to predict what is going to happen. What you expected may actually happen. And I want to deliver a message to the world. And Dr. Ayman also wants to deliver a message. I want you to deliver that message.”

Within two hours, the four men were posing in front of a rocky backdrop as Abu Ghaith spoke using what he said were “bullet points” provided by bin Laden that mixed verses from the Quran with justification for the terrorist attacks.

It was a position that would bring the onetime imam infamy as well as a place in the inner circle of the world’s most wanted terrorists and eventually to federal court in Manhattan, where he was brought after his capture last year in Jordan.

Abu Ghaith was the final witness in his trial on charges he conspired to kill Americans and aid al Qaeda as a spokesman for the terrorist group. Closing arguments were scheduled for Monday.

The testimony was a rare gambit by the defense, a last-ditch effort to counter a mountain of evidence against Abu Ghaith, including an alleged confession and the video showing him sitting beside bin Laden on Sept. 12, 2001, and another in which he warned Americans that “the storm of airplanes will not abate.” The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but it contends he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator, and had no role in plotting more attacks.

On cross-examination, though, Abu Ghaith admitted that he sent his pregnant wife, six daughters and a son to Kuwait while he went to Afghanistan on Sept. 7, 2001, after hearing inside and outside al Qaeda training camps that something big was going to happen soon.

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