NEW YORK CITY — The first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial is a “mass murderer” who played a key role in the terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, a prosecutor said Monday in closing arguments.
Defense claims that Ahmed Ghailani was an unwitting dupe in the plot “flies in the face of the evidence and it flies in the face of common sense,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chertoff told jurors in federal court in Manhattan.
Prosecutors allege Ghailani helped an al-Qaida cell buy a truck and components for explosives used in a suicide bombing in his native Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. The attack in Dar es Salaam and a nearly simultaneous bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
“Sitting among us is a mass murderer — Ahmed Ghailani,” Chertoff said.
He added: “Ahmed Ghailani has the blood of hundreds on his hands.”
The day before the attack, prosecutors say, Ghailani and other plotters fled to Pakistan. Authorities say that while he was on the run, he spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and later as a document forger for al-Qaida in Pakistan.
He was captured in 2004 and held by the CIA at a secret overseas camp before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.
After the decision to put the 36-year-old detainee on trial in New York, a judge dealt the government a setback by barring testimony from a key witness identified by the CIA. Harsh interrogations techniques used by the CIA made the evidence unconstitutional, the judge ruled.
Despite the decision, the government has been given broad latitude to reference al-Qaida and bin Laden.
The jury heard a former al-Qaida member who has cooperated with the government describe how bin Laden took the group in a more extreme direction with a 1998 fatwa against Americans.
Bin Laden accused the United States of killing innocent women and children in the Middle East and decided “we should do the same,” L’Houssaine Kherchtou said on the witness stand.
A prosecutor read aloud the fatwa, which called on Muslims to rise up and “kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they can find it.”
Other witnesses described how Ghailani bought gas tanks used in the truck bomb with cash supplied by the terror group, how the FBI found a blasting cap stashed in his room at a cell hideout and how he lied to family members about his escape, telling them he was going to Yemen to start a new life. Instead, prosecutors say, he boarded a one-way flight to Pakistan using a false name.
Closing arguments were expected to last two days, with the jury hearing from the defense on Tuesday.