Government to Sum Up Its Case Against Ghailani

This courtroom skectch shows Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, in light blue, an alleged terrorist from Tanzania who prosecutors say directly participated in the planning of the Tanzania embassy attack and a twin truck bombing attack 10 minutes earlier on the U.S. embassy in Kenya. CBS/Jane Rosenberg

Early on the morning of August 7, 1998, Amina Bakary was walking home through the streets of Dar es Salaam with medicine in hand for a nagging toothache. As she approached her house at Ilala Street, she didn't notice that the red metal gate on a neighboring house, which was usually closed, was open. A white Nissan refrigeration truck, typically used to transport fish in the Tanzanian capital, suddenly backed out of the driveway very close to her.

"It wasn't more than two steps when it put on the brakes." Bakary recalled in a Manhattan federal courtroom last month. "When the vehicle hit the brakes, the back doors opened."

She saw metal gas cylinders laying down - the kind she used for cooking, but larger. A man got out of the truck to close the doors.

"The vehicle went in the direction of town, and I went home," Bakary said.

She took the medicine, turned on a radio, and laid down on her bed.

"There came on the news the news that the American embassy had been bombed," she said.

What Bakary had witnessed was a refrigeration truck converted by al Qaeda operatives into a portable bomb loaded with at least a thousand pounds of TNT and hooked up with canisters holding oxygen and flammable acetylene gas to enhance its explosion, according to FBI agents who investigated the attack.

Bakary, those agents, and more than 45 other witnesses, many from Africa, have testified in the past four weeks in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, an alleged terrorist from Tanzania who prosecutors say directly participated in the planning of the Tanzania attack and a twin truck bombing attack ten minutes earlier on the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

Justina Mdobilu, a translator and political assistant in the Tanzania embassy, was eight months pregnant when the blast occurred.

"Suddenly, the windows blew into the room, and the only way I can describe that is as if someone took sand and threw it into the room, because when the windows blew into the room," she told the jury. "At the same time, there was the loudest noise I had ever heard in my life."

Mdobilu was lucky. She escaped with only cuts and bruises, and her baby was unharmed.

In all, 11 people were killed in Tanzania, and 85 were injured, many severely. The carnage in Kenya was worse, with 213 people killed, including 12 Americans who were inside the embassy, and 4,500 people injured.

Ghailani stands charged with 224 counts of murder, one for each person killed, and participating in the global conspiracy of al Qaeda, the Muslim terrorist group led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden.

Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the embassy bombings the day they occurred, and in 2001 four men involved were convicted in U.S. District Court and sentenced to life imprisonment.

For six years after the bombing, Ghailani, like bin Laden and more than a dozen others indicted in the original embassy bombings case, was a fugitive.

In July 2004, Pakistani authorities arrested Ghailani in the town of Gurjat, and then he was transferred to a CIA prison overseas, before being moved in 2006 to the U.S. prison on the navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Last year he became the first Guantanamo detainee moved by the Obama administration to the U.S. mainland for a civilian jury trial.

Prosecutors, who will make their closing arguments Monday, have sought to portray Ghailani as having carried out crucial specific tasks such as purchasing the Tanzania bomb truck and the gas cylinders that went in it. But more often they have simply tried to place him in the company of men known to be al Qaeda operatives in East Africa in the mid-1990's - hanging out in the same Mombasa, Kenya, clothing store or Dar es Salaam residences, riding in the same vehicles, flying on the same flight to Pakistan.

Sleyyum Suleiman Salum Juma, a vehicle broker from Dar es Salaam, told the jury he had brokered the sale of a used 1987 Nissan Atlas between its owner and two buyers - Ghailani and another alleged al Qaeda operative called Sheik Ahmed Swedan, who also obtained the Toyota Dyna truck used in Nairobi, according to trial evidence.

Julius Kisinmgo Temo, a welder, said at Swedan's direction, he built partitions in the back of the Nissan truck. "So that he could separate the areas like little rooms and put different types of fish," he remembered Swedan telling him. "Here I could put octopus, here I could put squid and other things."

It turns out those partitions were for the gas cylinders.

Felix John Lekule, another welder, said he sold Ghailani and Fahad Ali Msalam, an alleged embassy bomber who evaded capture, a total of seven canisters of oxygen and acetylene gas, that Ghailani did most of the talking and paid him in cash.

Salum Issa Mohammed, an auto spare parts salesman who worked for Ghailani's roommate, said during frequent visits to their residence on Amani Street, other visitors included Msalam, who had also bought a Suzaki Samarai used as a utility vehicle by the Tanzania embassy bombers. The Suzuki, filled with TNT residue, was found after the attacks parked outside Ghailani's residence.

FBI Agent Michael Forsee told the jury that one of the keys on a key chain for the Suzuki opened the front door to that house on Ilala Street where the conspirators assembled the Tanzania embassy bomb truck that almost ran over Amina Bakary. Another key fit a padlock that secured the front gate. But no Ghailani fingerprints or DNA evidence were ever found at the Ilala house.

"This bomb was as much as a thousand pounds of explosives," said Leo West, a former FBI explosives expert who led the forensic team in Dar es Salaam. "The bomb contained TNT if not other explosives as well." It detonated just 50 feet from the front of the embassy and left a crater 18-19 feet wide and three-and-half-feet deep.

West showed the jury a 22-pound piece of the embassy gate that was found 12-hundred feet away and a 66-pound piece that landed on the roof of a building 600 feet away. Among the bomb truck parts recovered were the rear axle, a door frame, and most importantly, a right front frame with the unique vehicle identification number belonging to the Nissan Atlas.

The evidence recovery teams also found more than 200 of pieces of oxygen and acetylene cylinders, pointing to at least 19 oxygen and acetylene gas cylinders used in the Tanzania truck bomb, said FBI Forensic Metallurgist Michael Smith.

Ghailani worked sometimes at a clothing store in Mombasa in the mid-1990s, according to several witnesses, a store owned by the Msalam family. Msalam and Swedan were among the regulars who hung out there even after the store closed.

"There were many that used to come, a lot of different men," said Mica Kamau Ngugi, who owned a garage near the store. "They used to sleep right there in the shop."

Importantly, Ngugi identified Mohammed Sadeek Odeh, a convicted Kenya embassy bomber, and Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a convicted Tanzania embassy bomber, as among those visitors.

One of the only items in evidence with Ghailani's fingerprint was also found in the store - a Fanta soda bottle, according to FBI agent Meghan Miller, who searched it in 1998.

Among the more incriminating items against Ghailani shown to the jury was an electric detonator, or blasting cap, former FBI Agent Gerald Bamel said he found inside a locked wooden armoire in Ghailani's room at the Amani Street residence in Dar es Salaam. It was his second search of the premises. The discovery happened while he was removing the shelves.

"I saw a white wire from behind the shelf that you could not see when the shelf was in the cabinet," Bamel testified. "I took the white wire and grabbed it to see what it was, and I pulled it out, and I immediately saw what it was, and I got rid of it. I dropped it," he said.

"I saw that it was a blasting cap, and I was afraid that it would detonate in my hand and blow my hand off, so I immediately let go of it."

Bamel also found Mobitel cell phone bills in the name of "Ahmed Khalfan" that bore Ghalani's fingerprint. Phone records shows numerous calls during the first week of August 1998 from the purported Ghailani cell phone to numbers for Msalam, for a house in Nairobi where the Kenya truck bomb was assembled, and to a Nairobi hotel where the conspirators met.

Prosecutors said the search also yielded a passport application for convicted Tanzania embassy bomber Khalfan Khamis Mohamed under the alias "Zaharan Nassor Maulid," the name he was living under while on the run in South Africa, where he was arrested in Oct. 1999.

Travel records introduced at trial indicate that Ghailani left East Africa the day before the embassy bombings on a flight to Karachi, Pakistan, with a number of al Qaeda members on board.

Laddah Hussein, a Ghailani cousin from Zanzibar who lived in Dar es Salaam in the 1990s, told the jury in those days he used to see his younger relative two or three times a week.

On Ghailani's last visit, he told Hussein he was leaving to find work in Yemen, the same story Swedan and Msalam told their families, according to relatives who testified.

"I asked him, you're going to Yemen to look for your livelihood? I hear that life there is very difficult," Hussein testified.

Ghailani said, "I'm going to try," he recalled.

Hussein never saw him again until his appearance in court two weeks ago.
  • Phil Hirschkorn

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