Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden who once served as a spokesman for Al Qaeda, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in federal court in Manhattan on Friday morning, where he was charged with conspiracy to kill Americans.
The appearance of Mr. Abu Ghaith before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in the cavernous ceremonial courtroom in Lower Manhattan, only blocks from the site of the 9/11 terror attack, was fraught with symbolism, even as the details of both his role in Al Qaeda and his arrest remained unclear.
Mr. Abu Ghaith, a slight, trim man with a manicured gray beard and dressed in a blue prison smock, barely spoke aside from some one-word replies to questions from the judge during the 20-minute arraignment. His lawyer pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
Federal prosecutors asked that Mr. Abu Ghaith remain in custody. His lawyer did not challenge the request, but left open the possibility of making a bail application later.
Justice Department officials described Mr. Abu Ghaith 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. He was married to one of Bin Laden’s daughters, Fatima, and the indictment alleges a working relationship with the terrorist group’s leader, who was killed by United States forces in Pakistan in 2011. . .