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Accused al-Qaida propagandist's lawyers say US has wrong man

WASHINGTON — Days before his Sept. 11-related terrorism trial begins in New York, accused al-Qaida propagandist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith again asked a federal judge to dismiss or postpone the proceedings, contending the government had charged the wrong man.

In a federal court filing made public Thursday, Ghaith’s attorneys said newly obtained evidence suggests a second individual with a similar name and past, who is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay, is the person who threatened the U.S. with more airplane hijackings after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The lawyers asked that the case against Ghaith be dismissed or that the trial, set to begin with jury selection Monday, be postponed until the matter can be cleared up.

The second individual was identified as Abdul Rahman Abdul Abu Ghityh Sulayman, a “high-risk” detainee who the U.S. government has warned will return to terrorism if released from the Cuban prison. His alias is Abu Ghayth Sulayman.

The defense said their information was gleaned from government interviews with other Guantanamo Bay prisoners and evidence seized in government raids in Pakistan, including material on a hard drive belonging to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the presumed Sept. 11 mastermind, who also is imprisoned at Guantanamo.

James Margolin, a spokesman in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, said, “We are aware of the filing, and we have no comment at this time.”

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not immediately react to the defense request. However, he earlier granted a one-week delay in the trial to allow the defense to question Mohammed about Ghaith and whether he indeed is Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, a top al-Qaida figure and chief propagandist for the terror organization.

According to the six-page court filing by defense lawyer Zoe Dolan, “There might be a second person with the name Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, or a very similar name,” with a past that mirrors their client. The other individual, she said, was of North African or Yemeni descent, “an insider in al-Qaida, close to Osama bin Laden,” had undergone al-Qaida military training and escaped with other al-Qaida leaders in the Tora Bora mountains.

According to the government, Ghaith is a Kuwaiti and was a top al-Qaida figure with military training who was also in the Tora Bora region when many al-Qaida leaders fled.

Defense lawyers believe the government has material that could bolster their claim, but is refusing to share it. They said they started asking prosecutors in July for copies of documents found on Mohammed’s hard drive during 2003 raids in Pakistan that included a list of terrorists referred to as “the captured brothers.”

The defense team believes the government also has “computer discs, phone books and other items recovered through U.S. military raids and operations” that would suggest their client is the wrong man.

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