US & Canada

Trial starts for ex-Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
Image caption Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, from Tanzania, was arrested in 2004

A former Guantanamo inmate accused of involvement in a US embassy bombing in Tanzania was part of an al-Qaeda group determined to kill Americans, prosecutors have said.

In opening statements at Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's trial, prosecutors said he had bought the truck and gas tanks used in the 1998 Dar es Salaam attack.

The defendant denies helping al-Qaeda kill 224 people in two bombings.

Mr Ghailani is the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to face a civilian trial.

"The defendant did all of this - because he was committed to al-Qaeda's overriding goal, killing Americans," Prosecutor Nicholas Lewin said.

Mr Lewin told the jury they would hear testimony from a former al-Qaeda "insider", who has pleaded guilty.

The prosecutor added that some of the bombings' survivors would also serve as witnesses.

Mr Lewin said that after Mr Ghailani fled to Pakistan, he "never dreamed that one day he would face all these witnesses - here in an American courtroom".

Defence attorney Steve Zissou described his client as a "dupe" for al-Qaeda and said his defendant had run errands for friends he believed were businessmen, not terrorists.

Unlike others involved in the bombing, Mr Ghailani did not go to training camps and was not indoctrinated, Mr Zissou said.

"He is neither a member of al-Qaeda nor did he share its goals," the lawyer said.

The Obama administration hopes to hold similar civilian trials for other high-profile Guantanamo inmates.

These could include alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

But correspondents say matters have been complicated by District Judge Lewis Kaplan's decision last week to exclude testimony from the prosecution's top witness in the Ghailani trial.

The man, Hussein Abebe, was expected to testify that he had sold TNT used in the bombing of the US embassy in Tanzania's main city, Dar es Salaam, in August 1998 to Mr Ghailani.

But a judge ruled last week that the witness could not testify as he had been named by Mr Ghailani while he was "under duress".

Secret facility

Mr Ghailani, 36, was detained in Pakistan in 2004, taken to a secret CIA facility and then to Guantanamo Bay in 2006.

He was subject to what the government refers to as "enhanced interrogation" by the CIA. His lawyers say he was tortured.

The Tanzanian-born defendant is accused of having purchased the vehicle and explosives used in the attack in Dar es Salaam and of having served as an aide to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

He is believed to have flown to Nairobi, Kenya, in August 1998, renting a room at a hotel said to have been used for meetings by bombers who attacked the US embassy in that city on the same day as the Tanzanian bombing.

He denies the charges, but faces life in prison if convicted.

Whereas other Guantanamo detainees have been tried by military commissions, Mr Ghailani is the first prisoner to be tried in the civilian courts.

The Ghailani case is seen as a test of the administration's pledge to close the US military prison in Cuba by next January.

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