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Witnesses link accused embassy bomber to al-Qaida

Two witnesses in the 1998 embassy bombing trial in federal court in Manhattan testified Thursday that Ahmed Ghailani hung out with key conspirators in the al-Qaida plot at a clothing store in Mombasa, Kenya, as prosecutors began to tighten their case against Ghailani.

They also introduced a web of pictures, passport applications, hotel registers and air travel records to show that he gathered with al-Qaida operatives at a seedy Nairobi hotel a week before the bombings, and traveled with four other plotters to Pakistan under the assumed name Abubakar Ahmed the day before the bombings.

Ghailani, the first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in civilian court, is charged with conspiracy and 224 counts of murder in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Prosecutors say he gathered key components for the truck bombs, but the defense says he was a young dupe used by older friends in a plot he knew nothing about.

The tiny Mombasa clothing store, named Azzam, was managed by accused plotter Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam, whose family owned it, and frequented by alleged conspirator Sheikh Swedan, said Wilson Maganga, a mechanic who worked in an open-air repair shop across the street.

In the weeks before the attack on the embassies, Maganga said, the shop was closed but Swedan and Msalam continued to frequent it, lugging material - including a large truck battery - inside and huddling behind closed doors.

Shown a picture of Ghailani, Maganga testified, "I recognize him as well. . . . He was also a friend of the guy who owned the shop." Another witness, Msalam's aunt, said Ghailani had actually been an employee at the clothing store.

Sheikh Swedan and Fahid Msalam were never captured or tried in the embassy bomb plot. In January 2009, officials said they were killed in northern Pakistan in a U.S. drone attack. Msalam, also known as Usama al-Kini, was identified as al-Qaida's chief of operations in Pakistan who had been behind assassinations and a hotel truck bombing in Islamabad.

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