After years in custody, Padilla goes before jury

Published May 14, 2007

MIAMI - After months of investigation, legal maneuvering and jury selection, federal prosecutors and attorneys for Jose Padilla finally get to present their cases in a terrorism support trial expected to last into August.

Opening statements are scheduled today in the trial of Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and two co-defendants.

Padilla, 36, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert, has been in federal custody since May 2002. He was initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States and was held for 31/2 years as an enemy combatant, but those allegations are not part of the Miami case.

Instead, Padilla and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45, are accused of being part of a North American support cell for Islamic extremists around the world. All have pleaded not guilty and face possible life in prison if convicted. Hassoun and Jayyousi are accused of being jihadist recruiters, fundraisers and suppliers, and Padilla is portrayed as a recruit.

Prosecutors have to show that each was involved in at least one act to provide material support to extremist groups. A key piece of evidence against Padilla is an application to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan that prosecutors say bears his fingerprints.

For Hassoun and Jayyousi, who were under FBI surveillance for much longer than Padilla, the jurors must interpret hundreds of telephone wiretaps, money transfers and entries in Jayyousi's Islam Report newsletter.

However, no specific acts of violence or victims are blamed on any of the defendants.

"The prosecution has to get the jurors to say that something reeks of terrorism here, " said Milton Hirsch, a prominent Miami defense lawyer not involved in the case. "If they can make the jury believe this is a referendum on terrorism, never mind the particulars."