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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET


Maryam Sepehri

New York


Fmr Al Qaeda Testifies at Ghailani Trial

October 21, 2010 - 12:18 AM | by: Maryam Sepehri

A second day of testimony did not directly tie L’Houssain Kherchtou, a former Al Qaeda member to Ahmed Ghailani, who’s on trial for the 1998 bombings of two US Embassies in East Africa, which killed more than 200 people.

Prosecutor Harry Chernoff showed a picture of Ahmed Ghailani to the witness and asked whether Kherchtou recognized the man in the photo.  “No sir,” replied Kherchtou. Kherchtou never knew Ghailani but the Government’s hope is to shed some light on the terror cell’s operations in Kenya and Tanzania. Under direct examination, Kherchtou described his time as an Al Qaeda trainer in Afghanistan and how he moved through the ranks.  He said he was asked by a top Al Qaeda member to move to Kenya and learn to become a pilot. “We need someone to go and study to be Osama Bin Laden’s pilot.” And so he did. While in flight school, he testified that he hosted many Al Qaeda members traveling through Nairobi.  He said he facilitated their travel plans by booking plane tickets and boat trips, he helped them shop for the journey and even offered his apartment as a crash pad. After an incident with Kenyan police, he said he was under surveillance and had to move. “I let the apartment go and went to Sudan.”

In 1995, Kherchtou said he learned Al Qaeda’s money was drying up and was told by Bin Laden himself “you have to forget about flying anymore.”  Kherchtou testified that when Al Qaeda decided to move it’s operation from the Sudan back to Afghanistan, he stayed behind.   “I just decided not to go with them. I had one girl, one kid and another one coming and didn’t see a future in Afghanistan” for them.   Fighting back tears, Kherchtou admitted to having a dispute with Al Qaeda’s leadership over his wife’s medical payments. He said he decided to no longer be a member of organization at that time.

Kherchtou, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and now lives in the U.S. He told the jury that he was approached numerous times by different governments to become an informant. He testified that he signed a cooperation agreement in Oct 2000 with the US government, obligating him to testify in trials “such as this one.” And, “if the government thinks I’ve lied, everything I said here will be presented against me” on sentencing day.  However, no such date has been set.

Defense is expected to cross-examine the witness next.