NEW YORK -- The self-proclaimed architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks says a former al-Qaida spokesman on trial in New York may have been "an eloquent, spell-binding speaker" who urged attacks on America, but he was not the high-level terrorist that prosecutors allege.
In fact, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was one of al-Qaida's top organizers of terrorist operations, portrays Sulaiman abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, as a little-known figure who would never have been privy to details of upcoming attacks on Western targets.
Jurors may get to hear Mr. Mohammed's written testimony this week, as Mr. abu Ghaith's trial on charges of conspiring to kill Americans began its third week Monday in federal court in lower Manhattan.
The statement from Mr. Mohammed, being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was contained in a motion filed Sunday by defense attorney Stanley Cohen, who says Mr. Mohammed's words are critical to his client's case and should be presented to jurors as the defense begins presenting witnesses. Prosecutors rested their case Friday.
Mr. abu Ghaith faces life in prison if convicted of conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to provide material support or resources to al-Qaida and providing material support and resources to al-Qaida.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. abu Ghaith's words in his post-Sept. 11 speeches show that he knew in advance of specific plots, including one in December 2001 to destroy U.S. jetliners with bombs hidden in suicide bombers' shoes.
Because Mr. Mohammed is being held at Guantanamo, he was not allowed to travel to New York to testify for the defense. Mr. Cohen submitted questions in writing to Mohammed on Feb. 19; military officials on March 13 provided the defense with Mr. Mohammed's 14-page response, which Mr. Cohen in court papers described as "unedited, un-redacted and unclassified."
Mr. Mohammed prefaced his written replies by noting that they were in response to 451 questions covering 34 pages. "It reminded me of the interrogations at the Black Sites and the questions from the dirty team at Guantanamo," he said. "Black sites" refers to the secret prisons operated by the CIA outside the United States and used to detain accused terrorists deemed enemy combatants.
Mr. Mohammed also wrote that he would not agree to give audio or video testimony, even if asked by the defense. "These answers should suffice," he said.
Mr. Mohammed described himself as the head of al-Qaida's foreign operations, a job given to him by Osama bin Laden that involved organizing "all the jihadist operations" conducted outside of Afghanistan, including the September 2001 attacks.
He said he did not know Mr. abu Ghaith personally and only came to know of him by listening to recordings of sermons that Mr. abu Ghaith had delivered when he was an imam at a mosque in Kuwait.