In Miami, Terror Trial Begins for Alleged Dirty Bomber

Jose Padilla accused of being part of support cell for Islamic extremists


Miami, Fla. - Five years after his arrest at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Jose Padilla heads to court - but with no mention of the "dirty bomb" allegations that first made headlines.

Padilla and two co-defendants are accused of being part of a support cell that funneled fighters, money and supplies to Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and elsewhere around the world. Jury selection was to begin Monday.

Padilla, held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi face charges of conspiracy to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas and of providing support to terror groups. All three pleaded not guilty. They could face life in prison if convicted.

In 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Padilla's arrest and said authorities had thwarted an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major city. Those allegations have been dropped.

Padilla was hastily added to an existing case in Miami in November 2005, a few days before a Supreme Court deadline for Bush administration briefs on the question of the president's powers to continue holding him in military prison without charge.

Padilla claimed he was tortured while interrogated in military custody - a charge repeatedly denied by the Bush administration - and sought unsuccessfully to have his case dismissed for "outrageous government conduct."

Federal officials claim Padilla admitted involvement and training with al-Qaida during his brig interrogations, as well as the proposed "dirty bomb" plot and another plan to blow up apartment buildings. However, none of that can be used as evidence because Padilla had no lawyer present and was not read his Miranda rights.

"If he's acquitted, it's going to be a cautionary tale about denying full constitutional rights to U.S. citizens who are accused of a crime," said Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor.

Although there is no direct connection, the shadow of the 2001 terror attacks hangs over the case. Dozens of potential jurors mentioned the attacks when they filled out questionnaires meant to gauge their ability to be fair and impartial.

"It is not going to be possible to eradicate 9/11 from the thoughts of jurors," said Philip Anthony, chief executive officer of the national jury consulting firm DecisionQuest.

Prosecutors say Hassoun, 45, acted as a South Florida recruiter and fundraiser for violent Muslim causes. Padilla, 36, a one-time street gang member in Chicago, allegedly became a recruit. Padilla had converted to Islam in a Florida prison while serving a year for a 1991 weapons conviction.

A key piece of evidence is a purported "mujahedeen data form" that prosecutors say Padilla completed in 2000 - his fingerprints are on it - to join an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.

Jayyousi's alleged major role was publication of the "Islam Report," which prosecutors say was used to spread extremist Islamic ideology and assist in fundraising and terror support. Jayyousi, 44, contends he was only reporting on global events of Muslim interest, and his lawyer says prosecutors are attempting to expand the case into a trial of Islamic political and religious groups.

"The trial will ultimately become the United States vs. Islam," said Jayyousi lawyer William Swor.

The alleged conspiracy goes back more than a decade, with prosecutors claiming more than 50,000 intercepted telephone calls and bugged conversations in Arabic with purported code words.

Yet there's little proof that the three were directly responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. In court papers, prosecutors listed generalized victims such as Serbian and Croat forces in the 1990s Bosnian war, the Russian army in Chechnya and "moderate" Muslim governments in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere.

Defense lawyers say providing assistance to one faction in these conflicts does not necessarily amount to a crime.

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