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Bin Laden son-in-law's lawyers may question accused 9/11 mastermind

A man identified as Suleiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. REUTERS/Handout
A man identified as Suleiman Abu Ghaith appears in this still image taken from an undated video address. REUTERS/Handout

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday briefly delayed the upcoming trial of a son in law of Osama bin Laden on terrorism-related charges so his lawyers could submit written questions to accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan postponed jury selection from February 24 to March 3 after agreeing to a deal between the U.S. government and lawyers for Suleiman Abu Ghaith to allow the submission of hundreds of questions to Mohammed. Mohammed is being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

That delay was much shorter than the 45 days sought by lawyers for Abu Ghaith, 48, who want to question Mohammed to determine if he would be a suitable witness.

Before the agreement with prosecutors, Abu Ghaith's lawyers had sought to interview Mohammed in person, a request Kaplan suggested he wouldn't have granted.

"I am deeply skeptical that there is any right of access to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on the motion the defense made," he said at a court hearing on Wednesday.

Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti and former al Qaeda spokesman and one of the highest-profile individuals to face charges, is accused of conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support and resources to terrorists and conspiring to provide such support.

His lawyers have said Mohammed, who faces a U.S. military trial at Guantanamo, is "likely to be the most important witness" in Abu Ghaith's case.

Wednesday's agreement calls for questions and documents to be submitted to Mohammed to be subject to U.S. government review but not disclosed to prosecutors handling the case.

Mohammed's written responses would likewise be subject to U.S. government review to ensure they do not reveal information about his detention conditions prior to his arrival at Guantanamo or about the base's security procedures.

The questions may also not delve into military, intelligence or law enforcement operations by any nation or agency, Kaplan's order said.

Prosecutors announced the indictment of Abu Gaith in March after he was detained in Jordan and brought to the United States.

The case is U.S. v. Abu Ghayth, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 98-cr-01023.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York)

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