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First Gitmo detainee criminal trial begins in NY

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - 09:56

New York: The first criminal trial of a terrorism suspect from Guantanamo Bay began on Tuesday with prosecutors calling him a militant while the defense said he was a naive associate of extremists who bombed U.S. embassies.

The trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani at Manhattan federal court is seen as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama`s approach to handling some of the 174 suspected extremists held at Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

Ghailani, 36, is a Tanzanian charged with conspiring with Islamic militants to bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on August 7, 1998, in which 224 people were killed. He faces life in prison if convicted.

In opening statements, defense attorney Steve Zissou said Ghailani, who was 22 at the time of the bombings, was "immature ... trusting, naive, a creature of his surroundings" was "duped, innocently, to provide assistance in these attacks."

Zissou said that Ghailani, unlike his friends who had become militants, was "still watching cartoons."

"This case is going to come down to a simple question: did Ahmed Ghailani know?" Zissou said. "Did he know what his friends were planning? Did he know what was going to happen? The answer to that question is no."

But prosecutors said Ghailani was a member of the al Qaeda cell behind the attacks and lied about his involvement.

"This man, Ahmed Ghailani, was a vital member of that cell, this cell that killed 224 people that morning," assistant U.S. attorney Nicholas Lewin told the jury.

No "coerced" statements

Prosecutors said Ghailani bought the oxygen and acetylene tanks and the white Nissan Atlas truck used in the attack Tanzania.

"It was the defendant who bought the truck that served as the weapon on August 7, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania," Lewin said.

The jury also heard on Tuesday from the former acting ambassador to Tanzania, John Lange, who was in the embassy building at the time of the bombing. He said he suddenly heard a "very low rumbling noise for about two seconds," then the windows burst, sending glass onto everyone in the room.
Prosecutors said Tanzanian shopkeepers, a former roommate of Ghailani and a former Moroccan al Qaeda operative turned cooperator named L`Houssaine Kherchtou would be among the many witnesses they planned to call during the trial.

Last week the trial was delayed when U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the case, ruled against the participation of a key government witness.
Prosecutors had wanted the court to hear testimony from Tanzanian witness Hussein Abebe, who they say told FBI agents he had sold explosives to Ghailani that were used later in one of the bombings.


First Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 - 09:56

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