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Bin Laden son-in-law makes surprise testimony at NY trial

Frame grab from Saudi-owned television network MBC on April 17, 2002 shows Suleiman Abu Ghaith, spokesman of alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, claiming responsibility for the September 11 suicide attacks in the US
This April 17, 2002 image from the Saudi-owned television network MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) shows Suleiman Abu Ghaith

Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law made a surprise appearance Wednesday at his trial in New York, where he denied accusations he plotted to kill Americans.

Suleiman Abu Ghaith, who married bin Laden's daughter Fatima, had not been expected to testify during the proceedings, where he is charged with conspiracy to kill Americans, and conspiracy to support and supporting terrorists.

The 48-year-old from Kuwait faces life imprisonment if convicted by a jury at the trial, which is expected to conclude within days.

Speaking in Arabic, translated into English by an interpreter, Abu Ghaith also denied trying to recruit people for Al-Qaeda, as prosecutors have alleged.

"There is no one recruiting, but Osama Bin Laden. My intention we not recruiting anyone," he said.

And, asked by his lawyer if he ever wanted to kill Americans, he responded "no."

"My intention was to deliver a message I believed in," he said, denouncing the oppression of Muslims.

Presenting himself as an imam, he said he went to Afghanistan in June 2001 because he had a "serious desire to get to know the new Islamic government."

His other aim was "teaching and preaching," he said, adding that was something he didn't accomplish.

Clad in a suit with an open-collared shirt, the balding suspect sporting a salt-and-pepper beard admitted having recorded several videos at the request of bin Laden, who, he said, summoned him after learning he was a Kuwaiti imam.

He said he had never met Richard Reid, a British man who tried to explode a bomb hidden in his shoes on a Paris-Miami flight in December 2001, three months after the 9/11 attacks.

He said he learned of the plot after the fact, through media reports, while he was in Iran.

Abu Ghaith is most famous for appearing in a video with bin Laden the day after the 9/11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The US government said Abu Ghaith, in the video, warned the United States of a large army forming against it and that the attacks would be relentless.

This speech, Abu Ghaith testified, was based on "quotes and points" established by Bin Laden.

Abu Ghaith is the highest-profile alleged Al-Qaeda member to face trial in a US federal court rather than at Guantanamo Bay, which the White House has promised to close.

US prosecutors say Abu Ghaith worked for Al-Qaeda until 2002, when he fled Afghanistan for Iran. He was captured in 2013 and brought from Jordan to the US.