MIAMI -- Jose Padilla was convicted of federal terrorism support charges Thursday after being held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant in a case that came to symbolize the Bush administration's zeal to stop homegrown terror.
The Chicago native was once accused of being part of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the U.S., but those allegations were not part of his trial with two co-defendants.
Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi face life in prison because they were convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas. All three were also convicted of two terrorism material support counts that carry potential 15-year sentences each.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke set a Dec. 5 sentencing date for all three defendants.
The three were accused of being part of a North American support cell that provided supplies, money and recruits to groups of Islamic extremists. The defense contended they were just trying to help persecuted Muslims in war zones with relief and humanitarian aid.
Padilla was first detained in 2002 because of much more sensational accusations. The Bush administration portrayed Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert, as a committed terrorist who was part of an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the U.S. The administration called his detention an important victory in the war against terrorism, not long after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The charges brought in civilian court in Miami, however, were a pale shadow of those initial claims. That was in part because Padilla, 36, was interrogated about the plot when he was held as an enemy combatant for 3 1/2 years in military custody with no lawyer present and was not read his Miranda rights.
Padilla's attorneys fought for years to get his case into federal court, and he was finally added to the Miami terrorism support indictment in late 2005 just as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to consider President Bush's authority to continue detaining him.
Padilla had lived in South Florida in the 1990s and was supposedly recruited by Hassoun at a Broward County mosque to become a mujahedeen fighter.
The key piece of physical evidence was a five-page form Padilla supposedly filled out in July 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan, which would link the other two defendants as well to Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
The form, recovered by the CIA in 2001 in Afghanistan, contains seven of Padilla's fingerprints and several other personal identifiers, such as his birthdate and abilities to speak Spanish, English and Arabic.
Padilla's lawyers insisted the form was far from conclusive and denied that he was a "star recruit," as prosecutors claimed, of the support cell intending to become a terrorist. Padilla's attorneys said he traveled to Egypt in September 1998 to learn Islam more deeply and become fluent in Arabic.