An al-Qaida suspect accused in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa has pleaded not guilty to murder and conspiracy charges. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani is the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to go on trial in a U.S. civilian court.
Ghailani was indicted in New York federal court Tuesday on 286 charges related to the near simultaneous bombings in August 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224, including 12 Americans.
Ghailani was brought to the United States under heavy guard and was read the charges through an interpreter.
U.S. attorneys say Ghailani, a Tanzanian national believed to be in his 30s, helped build one of the bombs used in the embassy attacks. He is also accused of being an expert forger and a former bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The prosecution and defense attorneys refused to comment after Ghailani's brief court appearance. According to Pentagon transcripts, Ghailani earlier claimed that he did not know about the bombings beforehand.
In Washington, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Justice Department is determined to prosecute Ghailani and other terror suspects fairly.
"The Justice Department has been examining each and every individual to determine the appropriate disposition for each one of them and they have decided that the best way to proceed on this one is to try this individual on the indictments that are in federal court in the Southern District of New York," said Bryan Whitman.
Ghailani was one of about 240 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center, which was established after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. He 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.
Ghailani's trial is seen as a test of President Barack Obama's plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay by the end of the year and bring some suspects to trial in civilian court.
Republican lawmakers in Congress oppose moving high-level terror suspects to U.S. prisons, saying they could compromise security.
Ghailani will appear in court again next week, when he will be assigned permanent legal counsel for his trial.
If convicted, Ghailani faces the death penalty.