* Suspect accused in U.S. embassy bombings in Africa
* Will be first Guantanamo detainee tried in U.S. court
By Tabassum Zakaria
WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - An al Qaeda suspect accused in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa will become the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to go on trial in a civilian U.S. court, the Justice Department said on Thursday.
The decision to bring Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused in the nearly simultaneous bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, to trial in federal court in New York stemmed from an ongoing review of the 240 foreign terrorism suspects held at the prison in Cuba that President Barack Obama has ordered closed.
“By prosecuting Ahmed Ghailani in federal court, we will ensure that he finally answers for his alleged role in the bombing of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
“This administration is committed to keeping the American people safe and upholding the rule of law, and by closing Guantanamo and bringing terrorists housed there to justice we will make our nation stronger and safer,” he said.
Obama has ordered the Guantanamo Bay prison, set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, closed by the end of January.
Members of Congress are objecting to transferring any of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the United States, saying it would put American security at risk even if they were jailed.
Obama, who campaigned for president on a pledge to close the prison at a U.S. naval base in Cuba, plans to address concerns in a speech later on Thursday. [ID:nN20544607]
The Guantanamo Review Task Force looked at Ghailani’s case and as a result it was referred to the Justice Department for prosecution in the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department said.
Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was seized in Pakistan in 2004 and was one of the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantanamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006.
He was first indicted in New York in 1998 on charges of conspiring with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and others to kill Americans overseas and for involvement in the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania.
Since then he has been charged in several superseding indictments in New York and currently is accused of 286 different charges, including of playing a role in both embassy bombings and participating in an al Qaeda conspiracy “to murder, bomb, and maim U.S. civilians anywhere in the world,” the Justice Department said.
Eleven people were killed and at least 85 were wounded in the Tanzania bombing and 213 people were killed in Kenya.
Ghailani is charged with helping to buy a truck and oxygen and acetylene tanks used in the Tanzania bombing, and of loading boxes of TNT, detonators, and other equipment into the back of the truck in the weeks immediately before the bombing.
At a 2007 hearing at Guantanamo Bay to determine that he was an “enemy combatant,” Ghailani confessed and apologized for supplying equipment used in the Tanzania bombing but said he did not know the supplies would be used to attack the embassy, according to military transcripts.
He told the Guantanamo review panel he bought the TNT used in the bombing, purchased a cell phone used by another person involved in the attack and was present when a third person bought a truck used in the attack, the transcript said.
Editing by Eric Beech