Prosecutors: Ahmed Ghailani a Mass Murderer

This courtroom sketch from Nov. 8, 2010, shows prosecutor Harry Chernoff making his closing argument.
CBS/Jane Rosenberg
Federal prosecutors on Monday asked a jury to convict Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani for participating in al Qaeda's global conspiracy of terror and for a direct role in the twin truck bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 12 years ago.

"Sitting amongst us, a few feet to my left, is a mass murderer," Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff told the jury at the start of his closing argument. "Ahmed Ghailani has the blood of hundreds on his hands."

He is charged in the deaths of 224 people killed and more than 4,500 injured, many severely, when truck bombs packed with a thousand pounds of TNT blew up 10 minutes apart outside the embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998.

That day was the eighth anniversary of President George H. W. Bush's announcing the deployment of U.S troops to Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, as part of the response to Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Claims for the bombings faxed that day by al Qaeda listed the ongoing presence of those troops as one of the group's many grievances.

Ghailani, from Zanzibar, Tanzania, then 24, was one of the "implementers" of the embassy bombings, particularly in Tanzania, Chernoff said, as he summarized four weeks of witness testimony and evidence.

Ghailani and another operative purchased the used refrigeration truck converted to a weapon of mass destruction in Tanzania, Chernoff said. Ghailani then obtained some of the oxygen and flammable acetylene gas tanks joined to the TNT to enhance the explosion, he said.

Ghailani also stored electric detonators - one and a half inch, aluminum coated, PETN charged blasting caps - in the armoire of his Dar es Salaam house. The FBI found one, along with clothing tainted with TNT residue.

"He doesn't realize he has left one detonator behind because he has so many of them," Chernoff said.

Along with specific actions to advance the Tanazania bombing, Chernoff reminded the jury how numerous witnesses placed Ghailani in 1998 in the company of known al Qaeda operatives and embassy bombers, at "safe house" in coastal Mombasa, Kenya, at the house Ghailani shared in Dar es Salaam, and riding
in utility vehicles the conspirators used to ferry supplies to their bomb making locations.

Two of these men seen with Ghailani - Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and Khalfan Khamis Mohammed - were among four al Qaeda soldiers convicted in the first embassy bombings trial in 2001 and serving life sentences.

"He wasn't just among them, he was one of them, he wasn't just along for the ride," Chernoff said. "Ahmed Ghailani is no innocent."

Ghailani fled Tanzania using a fake name and passport the day before the bombings "when all the plans for the massacre were in place," Chernoff said. According to travel records, three senior al Qaeda leaders involved with the East Africa's cell were on Ghailani's flight to Karachi, Pakistan.

Records for a cell phone in Ghailani's name revealed a flurry of calls in the first week of August 1998 to the houses where the truck bombs were made and to a Nairobi hotel where al Qaeda operatives stayed.

The night before the attacks were the two longest calls, 17 minutes and 9 minutes, to a number in Egypt, followed by another call to Egypt the next morning for 6 minutes just an hour and half before the Dar es Salaam truck exploded. The calls were made by the light-skinned Egyptian man al Qaeda had recruited to be the suicide truck driver, Ahmed Awad, known to the group as "Ahmed the German."

Chernoff said Ghailani passed on the phone as a "gift" to the driver.

The prosecutor said, "After that, the East Africa cell's mission was complete."

Ghailiani did not testify during the trial, and before closing arguments began, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan asked him if he wished to do so. Standing up and shaking his head, Ghailani said, "No, sir."

Defense closing arguments and government rebuttal are scheduled for Tuesday. It's expected the multiracial six-man, six-woman jury will receive instructions from the judge Wednesday in how to conduct deliberations.