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Padilla trial defense cites Muslim relief work

Video of efforts by the defendants' aid group is shown to jurors. Closing arguments are near.

August 03, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Jurors who have heard weeks of testimony suggesting Jose Padilla and two co-defendants conspired to commit terrorism saw a video Thursday showing volunteers sorting through a warehouse full of food, clothing, medicine and toys gathered by the defendants' organization to aid Muslims overseas.

Produced more than a decade ago for a television show in Paterson, N.J., the video was shown to support the defendants' assertion that they were engaged in humanitarian relief efforts from 1993 to 2001 -- when prosecutors say they were preparing to wage holy war.

Erol Bulur, a Turkish-born Muslim who owns the warehouse, may have been the final witness to take the stand in the case. Along with Padilla, the defendants are Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi.

Bulur told of tons of donations for Chechen refugees collected by Jayyousi's San Diego-based group, American Worldwide Relief, and delivered in four shipping containers to a partner agency in Azerbaijan.

Lawyers for Hassoun -- a Lebanese-born Palestinian who prosecutors say recruited Padilla to go abroad to aid besieged Muslims -- rested their case Wednesday. The defense of Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, is expected to wrap up Tuesday, said his attorney, William Swor.

Padilla's attorneys said they didn't plan to call any witnesses and would present their closing arguments the week of Aug. 13. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke has indicated she doesn't plan to sequester the jury during deliberations.

The defendants could get life in prison if convicted on all charges.

Padilla -- who has sat quietly at the crowded defense table the last few weeks -- was accused at the time of his May 2002 arrest of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States. That allegation has been dropped, and there has been no mention during his trial of the 3 1/2 years he spent in isolation at a Navy brig.

Instead, Padilla was added to the case against Hassoun and Jayyousi.

The three are charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism and offering material support to terrorists.

Most of the prosecution's evidence has come from wiretapped phone calls between Hassoun and other figures in a network of activists who raised money, collected relief goods and recruited people to aid Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya and Somalia.

Padilla's voice was heard on seven of the more than 300,000 phone calls intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials over nine years. The transcripts of the calls are the backbone of the prosecution's case.

Also taking the stand Thursday were two onetime colleagues of Jayyousi, who has a doctorate in engineering. They characterized him as mild-mannered.

Gerry White, chief of facilities at UC San Diego, recalled that Jayyousi and an Israeli architect had celebrated the 1993 Arab-Israeli peace accord with a champagne toast.

"May peace reign forever," White quoted Jayyousi as saying.

White said San Diego police investigators had contacted him at his office after a U.S. News & World Report article in June 2002 mentioned Jayyousi and his American Worldwide Relief organization as a part of a terrorism network.

"I just blew it off," White told the court. "I said that as far as I'm concerned, he posed no threat."

Mumtaz Usmen, a civil engineering professor at Wayne State University who supervised Jayyousi's doctoral dissertation, described the defendant as a man whose Muslim observances differed from his own, but with whom he was always comfortable and friendly.

Earlier this week, a retired U.S. Navy officer who served with Jayyousi in the 1980s told the court that the defendant had cleared rigorous security checks for a job retrofitting ships.

The witness, John Lasswell, described Jayyousi as "a ball of fire -- a manager's dream."

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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