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Guantanamo suspect guilty of mass murder: prosecutor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first suspect transferred from the Guantanamo military prison to face U.S. civilian trial was described on Monday by a federal prosecutor as a mass murderer with “the blood of hundreds on his hands.”

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba since 2006 accused of involvement in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, is depicted in this courtroom sketch of his arraignment, in New York, June 9, 2009. Standing next to Ghailani is Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin, the prosecutor for the case. REUTERS/Christine Cornell

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian from Zanzibar, is accused of conspiring in the 1998 al Qaeda car bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

His monthlong trial in Manhattan federal court has been seen as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to prosecuting some of the 174 men held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison in Cuba, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Obama has vowed to close the prison at Guantanamo amid international condemnation of the treatment of detainees, but he has run into political resistance at home.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff told the 12-member jury Ghailani conspired with senior al Qaeda operatives to mount “the most spectacular attacks on America to that point.”

Dismissing defense arguments that Ghailani was an errand boy for older militants with no knowledge of the plot, Chernoff told the jury Ghailani was not “just with them, he was one of them. He wasn’t just along for the ride, he helped build the bomb.”

Defense attorney Steve Zissou has said Ghailani was innocent and did not know what his friends were planning.

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But Chernoff said Ghailani was fully aware he was a member of the “logistics” branch of an East African al Qaeda cell.

The logistics team members “were trusted by al Qaeda, eager to wage jihad (holy war), eager to kill Americans or anyone else,” Chernoff told the court.

Ghailani was intimately involved in preparing the Tanzanian bomb, buying oxygen and acetylene tanks to increase the blast and the white Nissan Atlas truck used in the Tanzania attack, prosecutors said.

Jurors also heard Ghailani bought electric detonators used in the bomb and fled Africa on a flight to Pakistan along with senior al Qaeda operatives one day before the attacks.

But for a case that has gotten considerable attention as a bellwether for the Obama administration’s fight against terrorism, jurors heard nothing of Ghailani’s conditions of capture and detention.

Ghailani was held in CIA custody after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan and then moved to Guantanamo Bay in late 2006.

His defense attorneys have said he was tortured and prosecutors have acknowledged any statements made by Ghailani while in CIA custody were likely “coerced” and said at the outset they would not use them in the trial.

Defense attorneys did not call any witnesses during the trial and Ghailani did not take the stand. Attorney Peter Quijano is due to offer defense closing arguments on Tuesday.

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Todd Eastham