MANHATTAN (CN) – A government witness testified that he saw Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and others carry batteries and other items into an empty clothing store in Mombasa, Kenya a week before U.S. Embassies were hit with truck bombs in nearby Nairobi, and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Ghailani, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in a civilian court, is accused of conspiring and participating in the on Aug. 7, 1998 bombings, which killed more than 200 people.
Prosecutors on Thursday submitted documents showing that Ghailani used what appeared to be a false passport, issued to Abubakar Khalfan, to stay in Nairobi’s Hilltop Hotel, on the same day that other people wanted by the FBI checked in under pseudonyms.
Ghailani faces 286 counts of murder, conspiracy and other terrorism-related charges.
Through a Swahili interpreter, witness Wilson Maganga said on Thursday that he worked as a mechanic, fixing cars on the street, “five steps away” from the Azzam Clothing Store.
Maganga said he saw men carry three large batteries through the doors, spreading his arms about 2½ feet wide to estimate their size. From his job experience, he said, he believed the batteries could be used for a truck or for solar heaters.
Maganga said one of the men he saw enter the store was Fahid Mohamed Ally, whose family ran the store, and the other was Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, whom Maganga remembered arriving on his motorbike.
Ally and Swedan were both charged with participating in the Embassy bombings; they reportedly were killed in a drone missile attack last year.
Maganga recognized a picture of Ghailani, indentifying him as a “friend of the guy who owned the shop.”
About a week before the bombing, he said, “They would go inside the store and close the door.”
After the bombing, he said, he never saw any of them again, until FBI interrogators placed their pictures before him for identification.
During cross-examination, Ghailani’s attorney Peter Quijano tried to draw attention to inconsistencies between Maganga’s testimony and his statements to the FBI. Quijano held up a copy of a transcript and read portions of it in which Maganga indicated that he recognized Ghailani as an “employee” of the clothing store who “ran” the shop.
Maganga replied: “I didn’t tell them that.”
Quijano claimed Maganga that told the FBI the store had been open for business until two days before the bombing, but Maganga denied making that statement, as well.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had Maganga clarify that the FBI did not have a Swahili interpreter present, indicating that parts of what he said may have been lost in translation.
But Maganga agreed with the defense counsel that the clothing store had seen hard times because Fahid’s father was addicted to miraa, a narcotic that he kept on a table in front of customers. He eventually had to be hospitalized for the addiction, and his son’s religious beliefs drove the business into the ground, Maganga said.
He said that Fahid objected to letting his mother, Fauzia, be the boss, and refused to sell to women even though it was a women’s clothing shop.
Fahid’s ideas caused him to have a strained relationship with his mother’s sister, said Khalitum Abdilahi Omar, another witness for the prosecution.
Fahid went to Pakistan in 1996, and his views against women grew more strident after he returned, Omar said. Fahid disapproved of women driving or speaking to a man who was not her husband.
So Omar said she was surprised when Fahid came to her alone to borrow some of her husband’s T-shirts and trousers. She said Fahid usually wore only traditional religious clothing.
“He said he was going to Yemen. He found work there,” Omar said.
She said she gave him the clothes and never saw him again.
When Ghailani was asked to stand up, Omar initially had trouble identifying him, but she recognized a photo of him from more than a decade ago that was transmitted to a monitor at the witness stand.
She said she did not know if Ghailani worked in the store, as the defense claimed, or was just a friend of Ally and Swedan.
She said that she stopped seeing Ghailani as frequently in the months before the bombing. She usually had seen him at the store, and she visited there less often before the attacks because she had become pregnant.
Quijano said that unlike Ally and Swedan, Ghailani was “clean shaven” and wore Western-style pants and shirts.
The trial will continue on Monday, when prosecutors are expected to present more testimony about Mombasa, and the bomb crater in Nairobi.