(NEW YORK) — Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and a longtime member of al Qaeda’s inner circle, pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiring to kill Americans when he appeared Friday in a New York federal court house less than a mile from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
Ghaith stood before a federal judge in a blue smock with his hands cuffed behind his back. Prosecutors said much of their case is made up of a 22-page statement that Ghaith provided upon his arrest, along with previously recorded video and audio statements.
On Thursday, American officials said Ghaith had already provided interrogators with “key intelligence” on al Qaeda’s status, personnel and finances.
“It is huge,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on Thursday. “This is a man who is in the inner circle of bin Laden’s al Qaeda operations and now we have him alive and he’s talking.”
Lawmakers and U.S. officials on Thursday revealed Ghaith’s capture and secret transfer to New York. After living in Iran, Ghaith was taken captured in Turkey in January and later turned over to Jordanian authorities. From there, U.S. officials took over the case on Feb. 28 and spirited Ghaith to New York City on March 1.
The FBI’s George Venizelos referred to Ghaith as holding a “key position in al Qaeda, comparable to the consigliere in a mob family or propaganda minister in a totalitarian regime.”
“No amount of distance or time will weaken our resolve to bring America’s enemies to justice,” Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday. “…[T]his arrest sends an unmistakable message: There is no corner of the world where you can escape from justice because we will do everything in our power to hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Dr. Thomas Lynch at the National Defense University told ABC News on Thursday that beyond providing a potential intelligence windfall, Ghaith’s capture meant one of the more dangerous members of core al Qaeda is now out of play.
“Abu Ghaith is one of ten guys left from al Qaeda core that have the financial ties and reputation who might have been able to get the old band back together to execute spectacular international terror attacks,” he said.
Ghaith will remain in federal custody until his next court hearing in early April.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Lauren del Valle, CNN
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN