The prosecution and defense ended their cases in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, charged in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Ghailani is the first Guantanamo Bay detainee tried in a U.S. civilian court.
Ghailani, 36, is on trial in New York for the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens. Testimony began Oct. 12. Ghailani, accused of 224 counts of murder, may be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors called Tanzanian witnesses who testified that Ghailani helped buy the Nissan refrigeration truck used in the Tanzania blast, and that he and a co-defendant bought high- pressure metal tanks and filled them with oxygen and acetylene to magnify its impact.
Ghailani pleaded not guilty. His lawyers told the jury in opening statements that their client was duped by more worldly friends who fled Africa after the attacks.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan told jurors they will hear closing arguments beginning Nov. 8.
Ghailani’s lawyers didn’t call any witnesses. Instead, they showed jurors a series of documents describing searches of his home and interviews with witnesses. The presentation of the documents on facts agreed on by both sides, called stipulations, took about half an hour.
The defense’s evidence included a statement from Tanzanian officials that when they first searched Ghailani’s residence on Aug. 26, 1998, they didn’t find a blasting cap which FBI agents testified finding three days later on Aug. 29, 1998.
The Tanzanians said they didn’t secure the house to prevent anyone from entering the room where the explosive was found, the defense said.
Ghailani’s lawyers also showed the jury a report saying that when the mobile-phone salesman was interviewed, he identified the buyer as someone other than Ghailani.
Before resting their case today, prosecutors showed the jury a list of the names of all 224 people killed in the attack and evidence from doctors who performed autopsies showed they died as a result of the explosions.
The U.S. said 213 people were killed and about 4,000 people injured in the Nairobi explosion. In the Tanzania blast, 11 people were killed and about 85 injured.
Prosecutors introduced Mobitel Ltd. mobile-phone records found by U.S. investigators in a search of the house in Dar es Salaam where witnesses have said Ghailani lived prior to the bombings.
The telephone was purchased in December 1997 by Rashid Saleh Hamed, owner of the house, at 15 Amani Street, records show. The documents showed that when he purchased the phone, Hamed identified the user as “Ahmed Khalfan,” Ghailani’s first two names.
Bills were sent to a post office box that the government said Ghailani used. Records said they were paid by “Ahmed Khalfan.”
The phone was used in August 1998 to call a house in Nairobi where prosecutors said the bomb in the Kenya explosion was made.
Someone using the phone also called the Hilltop Hotel in Nairobi, where prosecutors said al-Qaeda members held a meeting on Aug. 1, 1998.
Twenty-one calls were made from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, the records showed. The embassy bombings occurred on the morning of Aug.7.
A register from the Hilltop from August 1998 showed that someone stayed there using Ghailani’s passport number and another name in May 1998 and again on Aug. 1, 1998. At least six other men stayed at the Hilltop on Aug. 1 whom the U.S. has linked through travel records to the al-Qaeda cell that carried out the attacks.
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. Prosecutors said. The government showed the jury airline, travel and customs records indicating that Ghailani fled Africa for Pakistan the day before the attack with other al-Qaeda members.
Ghailani’s lawyer, Steven Zissou, told the jury at the beginning of the trial that his client was innocent and had been tricked by friends who fled after the attacks. His client didn’t knowingly participate in the attacks and didn’t share the others’ goals, the lawyer said.
“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.
Ghailani went to Afghanistan and worked for several top al-Qaeda terrorists, serving as a cook and bodyguard in Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist group’s leader, the U.S. said.
Ghailani was indicted in December 1998. He was captured in Pakistan in July 2004 and held by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He was questioned and subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the U.S. said in court papers.
In September 2006, he was transferred to the U.S. lockup at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was transferred to New York last year for the trial. The jury wasn’t told about his detention in Guantanamo.
The case is U.S. v. Ghailani, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).