NEW YORK: A British terror convict has told a New York trial he met Osama bin Laden up to 50 times and was recruited by al Qaeda to blow up a passenger jet.
Saajid Badat was sentenced in 2005 to 13 years in jail as a co-conspirator in the notorious shoe bombing plot in December 2001, a time of worldwide concern over air travel after the September 11 attacks in the United States.
The 34-year-old has been dubbed a “supergrass”, slang for informant, by the British media for agreeing to testify against a slew of former associates.
He was released early from prison in Britain, where authorities have given him accommodation and financial help, and he gave evidence from an undisclosed location on Monday because he faces arrest in America.
Badat is the second US government witness to appear at the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of bin Laden and former al Qaeda spokesperson, who is on trial in Manhattan for conspiracy to kill Americans, conspiracy to provide support and providing material support to terrorists.
The prosecution showed the jury two videos of the defendant in October 2001 threatening Americans with a “storm of airplanes,” which they say implicates him in the shoe bomb plot.
“The storm shall not lessen especially the storm of the airplanes,” Abu Ghaith shouted in one of the propaganda clips.
But the defense says there is no evidence tying Abu Ghaith, 48, to the conspiracy and brands Badat, who looked worried and unhappy throughout more than two hours of testimony, the real terrorist.
Asked how many times he met bin Laden in Afghanistan, where he says he spent three years training and fraternizing with top al Qaeda leaders, Badat replied: “Around 20 times, maybe up to 50 times.”
Fluent in English, Arabic, Urdu and Gujarati, Badat said he smuggled explosives from Afghanistan to Britain in late 2001 after being recruited by al Qaeda to blow up jetliners with bombs hidden in shoes.
Fellow British recruit Richard Reid, known as the shoe bomber, is serving a life sentence in the United States for trying to blow up a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001. Badat, then 21, said he worked directly with Reid from October to December that year in Afghanistan, and testified that they were supposed to blow up different planes.
He said he “brainstormed for ideas” with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-declared 9/11 plotter, and planned with Mohammed’s nephew in Karachi to bomb a US, transatlantic or intra-Europe flight.
The witness, who grew up in a Muslim family in the English town of Gloucester, said he was introduced to the idea of violent jihad in London in 1997.
In 1998 he went to Bosnia, where he met veterans of the Balkans war and was taught how to use weapons. In 1999, as a 19-year-old he traveled to Afghanistan, via Dubai and Pakistan, to train for jihad.
In the Afghan city of Kandahar he said he met senior al Qaeda lieutenant Saif al-Adel and volunteered to arrange the training of future British recruits.
“If you want to take part in attacks against Jews in America, I could arrange that,” Badat quoted Saif as telling him at the time.
In 1999, Badat said he underwent his first training, being taught how to fire weapons, abseil, use military-grade explosives and make explosives.
For a week he also dolled out explosives training at Derunta camp near the Afghan city of Jalalabad and spent six weeks on the frontline between the then ruling Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance.
Badat told the court he spent a total of six to nine months in al Qaeda guest houses in Afghanistan, once working in a shop selling drinks and snacks, and as an English translator for a Taliban magazine.
In early 2001 received his first formal al Qaeda military training at a camp near the southern city of Kandahar, and did three follow-up courses in security and intelligence, including tips on how to blend into Western society.
But none of his testimony related to Abu Ghaith. Badat said he never met or spoke to the defendant about any terror plot, and knew nothing about him speaking to anyone else or even knowing about the plot.