NEW YORK (AP/WCBS 880) — A detonator was found hidden in the bedroom cabinet of a purported accomplice in the 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, a former FBI agent testified Monday at the man’s trial.
The witness, Gerald Bamel, told jurors in federal court in Manhattan that he made the discovery while still with the FBI and assigned to the investigation in Dar es Salaam. As he dismantled the cabinet inside a suspected hideout used by Ahmed Ghailani and others, he was startled to find himself holding a silver blasting cap.
WCBS 880 Irene Cornell reports from the courtroom
“I dropped it,” Bamel said. “I saw that it was a blasting cap, and I was afraid that it would detonate in my hand and blow my hand off.”
He said he summoned a bomb technician to safely remove the device.
Prosecutors allege Ghailani — the first Guantanamo detainee to face trial in a civilian court — was part of an al-Qaida cell that plotted the nearly simultaneous attacks in Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The Aug. 7, 1998, bombings killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
The government went into the trial with a considerable handicap when the judge ruled out the testimony of the witness who sold dynamite to Ghailani, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported. But prosecutors have pieced together a case with evidence that Ghailani was one of the conspirators who bought the 2 1/2 ton refrigeration truck and the gas tanks that converted it into a powerful bomb.
Ghailani, 36, of Tanzania has been accused of helping buy the truck used in the Tanzania blast and purchasing components for explosives. The defense says he was in the dark about the terror plot.
The day before the attack, prosecutors say, Ghailani and other plotters fled to Pakistan. Authorities say that while he was on the run, he spent time in Afghanistan as a cook and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and later as a document forger for al-Qaida in Pakistan.
He was captured in 2004 and held by the CIA at a secret overseas camp before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006.
Four other men were convicted in the embassy plot in the same Manhattan courthouse and sentenced to life in prison.
Jurors were given Election Day off. Prosecutors say they expect to wrap up their case when the trial resumes on Wednesday.
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