WASHINGTON — Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the charismatic al-Qaida spokesman, fundraiser and son-in-law to Osama bin Laden, is likely to have a vast trove of knowledge about the terror network’s central command but not much useful information about current threats or plots, intelligence officials and other experts say.
Abu Ghaith pleaded not guilty Friday to conspiring to kill Americans in propaganda videos that warned of further assaults against the United States as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Weeks after he was first arrested in Turkey, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who once served as a spokesman for Al Qaeda will appear in a New York courtroom on Friday to face terrorism charges that could result in life imprisonment.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who is married to one of Bin Laden’s daughters, Fatima, is to be charged with conspiracy to kill Americans, according to an indictment released Thursday. Justice Department officials described him as a propagandist who they believe has not had an operational role in Al Qaeda for years and did not participate in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, or in any plots against the United States. But one law enforcement official said that Mr. Abu Ghaith, 47, was the most senior Qaeda figure to face criminal trial in New York since America’s war against the terrorist network began.
Mr. Abu Ghaith was a Muslim preacher and teacher in Kuwait who spoke out against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan, where he met Bin Laden and eventually married one of his daughters. He attracted wide attention in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks by making statements defending the attacks, some of them carried on Al Jazeera.
According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, Mr. Abu Ghaith appeared with Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, who was then Bin Laden’s deputy, and warned the United States and its allies that a “great army is gathering against you.” He called upon “the nation of Islam” to do battle against “the Jews, the Christians and the Americans.”
The arrest of Mr. Abu Ghaith was the rare occasion in which a Qaeda operative was detained overseas rather than killed. The Obama administration has expanded the use of targeted killing operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, asserting that they are justified when there is no possibility of capture.
Spokesmen for the C.I.A. and the White House declined to comment.