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Padilla trial: terror or man of peace?

Published May 15, 2007


MIAMI - The trial of suspected al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla opened Monday with federal prosecutors arguing the U.S. citizen and two co-defendants provided money, recruits and military equipment for nearly a decade to Islamic extremists involved in violence worldwide.

"The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida, " Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier told the jury.

Defense attorneys accused the government of distorting the meaning of words such as "jihad" and "mujahedeen." They argued that defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45, were simply assisting Muslims in war-torn regions and that Padilla, 36, was a peaceful Islamic convert interested in studying his religion overseas.

Anthony Natale, Padilla's attorney, said the case was the product of "the politics of fear" in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Natale said Padilla wanted to become an imam - an Islamic religious leader: "He's a young man who has been wrongly accused."

If convicted of the main charge of conspiracy to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas, the three defendants could face life in prison. Evidence includes FBI wiretap intercepts translated from Arabic, boxloads of documents ranging from bank records to passports and dozens of witnesses.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, has been in federal custody since May 2002.

A key piece of evidence against Padilla - one that ties the other two to al-Qaida - is an application to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan that prosecutors say he completed in July 2000 using the name "Abu Abdullah al-Mujahir." They also say that it bears his fingerprints.

Padilla's lawyer said his client's fingerprints appear on only the first and last pages on the outside, suggesting it may have simply been handed to him, Natale said.

Frazier said Padilla agreed to be recruited by Hassoun as a prospective mujahedeen fighter to be trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

[Last modified May 15, 2007, 01:58:00]

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