A federal judge in New York has rejected a defense motion to throw out the conviction of a key conspirator in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Jurors had plenty of evidence to conclude Ghalfan Ghailani had "active participation in critical aspects of the conspiracy" behind the attacks, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled Friday.
The August 1998 truck bombings killed 224 people and injured thousands. While jurors convicted him of the conspiracy, they acquitted Ghailani on 224 counts of murder. Defense attorneys argued that was an inconsistency which demanded his conviction be overturned or that he be granted a new trial.
Kaplan's 56-page ruling forcefully dismissed those arguments. Evidence and testimony showed that Ghailani, who does not know how to drive, bought one of the trucks and gas cylinders used in the attack. Kaplan wrote. FBI agents found identical blasting caps and residue of the explosive PETN in a locked armoire where he had stayed. In addition, he fled Nairobi days before the attacks on a fake passport, using the same cover story as other al Qaida operatives in the plot.
"That a plot was afoot to bomb something was obvious," Kaplan wrote, "and the jury was entitled to find that Ghailani knew at least that much."
The trial was the first criminal prosecution of a Guantanamo detainee. Ghailani was captured in Pakistan in 2004 and spent five years at the naval base in Cuba. In the trial, Kaplan prohibited prosecutors from using evidence obtained during the alleged torture.
Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced by Kaplan Tuesday. Prosecutors are asking for a life sentence.