Bombing Defendant Helped Buy Truck for Embassy Blast, U.S. SaysWritten by Patricia Hurtado Wednesday, 13 October 2010
The first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in a civilian court in the U.S. helped buy a Nissan truck used by terrorists to deliver a bomb to the U.S. embassy in Tanzania, a prosecutor told jurors in New York.
Ahmed Ghailani was part of an al-Qaeda cell that wanted to “kill Americans” when it bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin told the federal court jury yesterday.
Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian, is charged with participating in a global conspiracy with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the near-simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Aug. 7, 1998. The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens. Ghailani, charged with 224 counts of murder, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
“At this trial we will prove to you that both of these massacres in Kenya and Tanzania were the work of a single al- Qaeda cell,” Lewin said in his opening statement. Pointing to the defendant, he said, “This man, Ahmed Ghailani, was an active member of that cell. He and his accomplices were committed to al-Qaeda’s overriding goal, to kill Americans.”
Lewin said the U.S. will present witnesses who can describe Ghailani’s actions before the blasts, including a Tanzanian man who sold the vehicle to Ghailani and an accomplice. He said the jury will also hear from a welder who sold large industrial gas tanks to Ghailani that the U.S. says were used in the Tanzania attack.
Ghailani and his accomplices loaded about 20 acetylene- and oxygen-filled tanks, each five feet tall and weighing about 150 pounds, into the Tanzanian truck. The mix of the gases, along with TNT, was intended, “to increase the fire bomb, increase the shrapnel and to increase the body count,” Lewin said.
The jury will also hear from Ghailani’s former roommate at a Dar es Salaam residence, where FBI agents found clothing covered with explosives residue and a detonator, Lewin said. He said the U.S. could link Ghailani to a mobile phone used repeatedly before the attacks to call a house in Kenya, where the Nairobi bomb was made.
L’Houssaine Kherchtou, a former al-Qaeda member who quit the terror group three years before the attacks, will also give jurors an insider’s look at the terrorist group, he said.
Ghailani fled Africa a day before the attack with other al- Qaeda members on a flight to Pakistan, he said.
“He never dreamed that he would one day face all of these witnesses, the victims of his crimes in an American courtroom,” Lewin said.
Ghailani’s lawyer, Steven Zissou, told the jury his client was innocent and had been “duped” by other, more worldly friends who had fled after the attacks. He compared Ghailani to government witnesses who unwittingly provided materials to the bomb-makers. Zissou told the jury his client hadn’t knowingly participated in the attacks and didn’t share their goals.
“These are the men who used him in this very plot, by running errands, not because they told him they were going to blow up an embassy,” Zissou said, adding later, “These members used dupes, dozens of people to aid and assist them and that is just what happened to Ahmed Ghailani.”
Ghailani was a follower who did the bidding of people such as a co-conspirator, Sheikh Ahmed Swedan, who purchased the Nissan truck, Zissou said. He described his client as “not really a man, but a boy, more comfortable playing with children and watching cartoons.”
He also urged jurors to put aside any sentiments about al- Qaeda or the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He predicted the government would fail to prove Ghailani knowingly participated in the embassy bombings.
The evidence that the U.S. will use to try to link him to the bombing, including the purchase of tanks, a truck or a mobile phone, were “all part of a normal, totally benign business arrangement, normal acts of commerce” common in East Africa, Zissou said.
John Lange, the former acting U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, said he was in a morning meeting on August 7, 1998, when a bomb ripped through embassy wall behind him.
“I suddenly heard a very low rumbling noise for about two seconds and then glass just blew in over my head and landed on the people in front of me,” said Lange, the government’s first witness. “It came down in sheets and not shards and it covered those people.”
Lange said he later found one worker, “covered in rubble up to her chest” and a dying man whose body was blackened, on the pavement outside the building, he said. “He was in his last gasps of life.”
He said he walked outside and surveyed the damage to the embassy, saying, “It was a disaster area.”
Ghailani fled Africa with a senior al-Qaeda explosives trainer and “remained an active participant in al-Qaeda,” the U.S. said in court papers. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in December 1998.
He later admitted that he worked for several top al-Qaeda terrorists and served as a cook and bodyguard for bin Laden, prosecutors said. He also forged documents for the terror group, according to the U.S. Those February 2007 statements made to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation won’t be used against him, the U.S. has said.
Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in July 2004 and held by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency where he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the U.S. has said.
His lawyers say he was tortured. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the case, rejected a defense bid to dismiss the indictment for the alleged torture.
Ghailani was taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006 and transferred to federal court in New York last year, after the Obama administration said it planned to close Guantanamo and try some terrorism suspects held there in civilian courts.
The trial resumes today.
The case is U.S. v. Ghailani, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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