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Gitmo Detainee Pleads Not Guilty In Bombings

NPR's Ari Shapiro Talks With Michele Norris About The Case On 'All Things Considered'

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The first Guantanamo detainee scheduled for trial in a civilian court in the U.S. pleaded not guilty Tuesday to involvement in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

Ahmed Ghailani entered the plea in a federal court in Manhattan hours after being brought to New York from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Tanzania native is accused of 286 separate counts related to the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The attacks killed 224 people.

Prosecutors claim that Ghailani helped to buy a Nissan truck, oxygen and acetylene tanks that were used in the bombing in Tanzania. Prosecutors contend he also helped load bomb-making material in the truck before the attack.

But Ghailani has said he was an al-Qaida pawn. While being held at Guantanamo Bay, Ghailani told a military panel that he unwittingly delivered explosives used by others for the bombing in Tanzania and apologized to the U.S. government.

Ghailani is accused of six counts of conspiracy to murder, bomb and maim. The other charges are specifically related to the bombings — murder and attempted murder; using and carrying an explosive device; and using and attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. Ten of the charges carry possible death sentences.

Ghailani was first indicted in December 1998 on charges that he conspired with Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida members to kill Americans overseas and aided in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. That bombing killed at least 11 people and injured 85.

In addition to the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Ghailani is accused of plotting with al-Qaida in a conspiracy to kill U.S. civilians all over the world.

Ghailani left Africa for Pakistan the night before the bombing. He was captured in July 2004 and sent to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

Ghailani's transfer to the U.S. comes weeks after Senate Democrats rejected President Obama's request for funds to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Lawmakers from both parties have demanded that the administration lay out a comprehensive plan for transferring detainees to the U.S. for trial, imprisonment or resettlement amid concern that the detainees represent a security threat.

But the Justice Department said numerous terrorism suspects have been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan — where Ghailani is behind bars — without incident.

The Justice Department said Ghailani was referred from prosecution in a civilian court after his case was reviewed by the Obama administration's interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. Ghailani had been held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba since September 2006.

"With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case."

From NPR and wire reports