By Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays
NEW YORK — Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law was convicted Wednesday for his role as al-Qaida’s fiery chief spokesman after 9/11 — a verdict prosecutors said vindicated the Obama administration’s strategy of bringing terror suspects to justice in civilian court.
A federal jury deliberated six hours over two days before finding 48-year-old Sulaiman Abu Ghaith guilty of charges that included conspiracy to kill Americans and providing support to al-Qaida.
Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti-born imam who married bin Laden’s eldest daughter about five years ago, is the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure brought to trial on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Prosecutors said he played a leading role in the terror organization’s post-9/11 propaganda videos, in which he and others gloated over the destruction and he warned of a “storm of airplanes” to follow.
He could get life in prison at sentencing Sept. 8.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said he hopes the verdict brings some comfort to al-Qaida 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-Qaida’s homicidal hierarchy to persuade others to pledge themselves to al-Qaida in the cause of murdering more Americans.”
Abu Ghaith’s lawyers had argued that he was being prosecuted for his words and associations — not his deeds — and that there was no evidence tying him to any of the terror plots that prosecutors suggested he knew about ahead of time.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the verdict was a success for the Obama administration’s policy of using the federal courts instead of military tribunals to handle terrorism cases.
“It would be a good thing for the country if this case has the result of putting that political debate to rest,” Holder said.