MANHATTAN (CN) – An FBI agent testified this week that an evidence recovery team recovered a detonator and found explosive residue in a Dar es Salaam residence that had 20 to 30 latent fingerprints – none of them from defendant Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. The agent said the residence was a suspected bomb factory for the Aug. 7, 1998 attack on a U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. That blast and another one the same day in Nairobi, Kenya, killed more than 200 people.
Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, faces up to life in prison if the jury finds that he planned or participated in the attacks. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said he may be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant even if he is acquitted.
FBI Special Agent Michael Joseph Forsee testified Wednesday that the “blasting cap” was discovered in plain view on the windowsill of the house that his team searched for two to three days.
Forsee said his team found the keys for the compound at 213 Illala in Dar es Salaam in a white Suzuki Samurai linked to a suspect in the bombing. One of the keys removed a padlock for the gate for a walled residence in Dar es Salaam, and another opened the front door, he said.
As agents entered, Forsee said, they found the house’s “caretaker” at the door, but he was not arrested or detained after they discovered the detonator.
“To my knowledge, he was not taken into custody,” Forsee testified under cross-examination.
The agent said he learned by reading the evidence recovery log that fingerprints, hair and genetic material were recovered from the scene, but none of it was traced to Ghailani.
He said he was not personally involved in that evidence-gathering because he was an interviewer.
FBI Agent Nanette Schumaker then took the stand and testified that her team lifted about 20 to 30 fingerprints from the scene. She did not state that any of them matched the defendant’s.
Schumaker said the gated compound’s exterior walls were lined with chunks of brown glass cemented into the top of the walls. She said its jagged edges formed a “sort of crude barbed wire.”
After putting on full-body Tyvek suits to protect the integrity of the evidence, her team swabbed areas of the compound to look for explosive residue, she said.
Records submitted as evidence show 4 pages of test results collection from more than 50 items swabbed for chemical residue.
Only the FBI agents swabbing themselves and their materials as controls tested negative.
All of the other items and rooms tested positive for TNT and PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate – a plastic explosive which also is used as a vasodilator for people with heart problems).
Schumaker said her team’s 3-day recovery effort was unusually long.
“I never had a search last longer than a day,” said Schumaker, who has been an FBI agent for 18 years. Her team spent a “day or a day and a half” digging through a garbage pit, which revealed additional evidence, she said.
Schumaker said that though Forsee was in a different department, all of the FBI agents onsite gathered once to discuss the “ground rules” of Tanzanian law, where they learned the country required that a “village elder” be present during the search.
Also on Wednesday, questions were raised about the role of the Tanzanian National Police; one witness said a TNP officer yelled at him and confiscated his cell phone when he learned the man planned to meet with defense counsel.
Another FBI agent testified this week that Ghailani’s fingerprints and explosive residue were found in a different building, the Azzan Clothing Store in Mombasa, Kenya.
Ghailani’s defense team has said Ghailani was simply an employee of the store and had no role in any other activities that may have occurred inside.
The trial resumes Monday. The government is expected to conclude its prosecution in the middle of the week.