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U.S. jury clears Ghailani of terrorism charges

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first suspect transferred from Guantanamo military prison to face a U.S. civilian court was found not guilty of terrorism charges on Wednesday in a setback to President Barack’s Obama plans for trying terrorism suspects.

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, 36, a Tanzanian from Zanzibar, had been accused of conspiring in the 1998 al Qaeda bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. The jury found him guilty of one relatively minor charge of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property with explosives.

Ghailani was cleared of 276 murder and attempted murder counts, along with five other conspiracy charges. It was a rare defeat for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, which has a near perfect record in prosecuting terrorism cases.

The jury deliberated for a week.

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.

The Obama administration has adopted what it calls a flexible approach, favoring military tribunals in some cases and civilian trials in others. Most Republicans say all terrorism suspects should be tried in military tribunals.

Ghailani was held in CIA custody after his July 2004 arrest in Pakistan, moved to Guantanamo Bay in late 2006, and transferred to New York in June 2009 to stand civilian trial.

The government accused Ghailani of buying seven gas cylinders used in the bomb and the truck used to transport it. Prosecutors said Ghailani flew to Pakistan along with senior al Qaeda operatives on the day before the bombings, and that a blasting cap was found in a cupboard in his room.

But defense lawyers called Ghailani a naive boy who was tricked by al Qaeda and they denied Ghailani ever took the flight to Karachi.

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Michelle Nichols and Eric Walsh