NEW YORK (AP) — An American who trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 before losing his nerve testified Thursday how he encountered Osama bin Laden and bin Laden's son-in-law at a safe house — and that bin Laden hinted that a suicide attack on U.S. soil was in the works.
"Just know you have brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands," bin Laden told the witness, Sahim Alwan, and other recruits, Alwan said on the witness stand in federal court in New York City.
Asked what he thought that meant, Alwan responded, "To die."
His testimony came at the trial of the son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who's accused of plotting to kill Americans by being a motivational speaker at al-Qaida training camps before the Sept. 11 attacks and as a spokesman for the terror group afterward when it sought to recruit more militants to its cause.
Alwan, 41, was among a half-dozen men who became known as the Lackawanna Six after their arrests on charges of providing material support to terrorists by attending bin Laden's al-Farooq camp in Afghanistan in 2001. He pleaded guilty in 2003 and served about seven years behind bars.
Testifying under subpoena, Alwan told jurors that he became an aspiring jihadist after worshipping at a mosque in Lackawanna , N.Y., where he grew up. In April of 2001, he traveled to Pakistan and crossed the border to Afghanistan, where he was directed to the safe house to wait for an assignment to a training camp.
While staying there, bin Laden showed up with in a truck with an entourage of AK-47-toting men, Alwan said. He testified that he recognized bin Laden as the FBI's "most wanted guy."
He also testified he overheard Abu Ghaith explaining an Islamic oath, or "bayat." He said the defendant told the men that if they swore allegiance to bin Laden, they were also expected to back the Taliban.
The recruits were shown a video depicting the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen that killed 17 American sailors, Alwan said. Prosecutors say the video was narrated by Abu Ghaith.
After seeing the video, he said, "I knew I was in over my head."
Once at the camp, Alwan informed his trainers that he wanted to go home. But he was told that he need to meet face-to-face with bin Laden first.
He testified that Bin Laden quizzed him about America, asking, "How are Muslims there? ... How are the youth there? What do they think of the operations?" By operations, Alwan said, he assumed bin Laden meant suicide missions.
"I just said, 'Oh we don't think about it,'" he testified.