NEW YORK — In surprise testimony in a Manhattan courtroom Wednesday, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law recounted the night of the Sept. 11 attacks, when the al-Qaida leader sent a messenger to drive him into a mountainous area for a meeting inside a cave in Afghanistan.
"Did you learn what happened? We are the ones who did it," the son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, recalled bin Laden telling him.
When bin Laden asked what he thought would happen next, Abu Ghaith testified that he responded by predicting America "will not settle until it kills you and topples the state of the Taliban."
Bin Laden responded: "You're being too pessimistic," Abu Ghaith recalled.
Bin Laden then told the onetime imam, "I want to deliver a message to the world. ... I want you to deliver the message," he said.
The testimony came at Abu Ghaith's trial on charges he conspired to kill Americans and aid al-Qaida as a spokesman for the terrorist group. His decision to take the witness stand was announced by his lawyer, Stanley Cohen, who surprised a nearly empty courtroom that quickly filled with spectators as word spread.
The rare gambit by the defense was a last-ditch effort to counter a mountain of evidence against Abu Gaith, including an alleged confession and videos showing him sitting beside Bin Laden on Sept. 12, 2001, and another in which he warned Americans that "the storm of airplanes will not abate." The defense has never disputed that Abu Ghaith associated with bin Laden after 9/11, but they contend that he was recruited as a religious teacher and orator, and had no role in plotting more attacks.
Testifying through an Arabic interpreter, the 48-year-old Kuwaiti-born defendant looked relaxed when he took the stand, wearing a blue shirt, open at the collar, beneath a charcoal-colored jacket. His hands were sometimes folded before him, though sometimes he waved or pointed them for emphasis.