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Prosecution rests its case against Padilla

July 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

MIAMI — Federal prosecutors rested their case Friday against Jose Padilla and two co-defendants charged with participating in an Al Qaeda support cell.

The jury has listened to nearly nine weeks of testimony from 22 witnesses and tapes of dozens of FBI wiretaps collected during an investigation that lasted nearly a decade.

Defense lawyers for Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi will begin their case next week, with the trial likely to continue into August.

Padilla, 36, a U.S. citizen, was originally accused of plotting with Al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb." He was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant before he was transferred to Miami on charges of supporting terrorism. The Miami case does not mention the "dirty bomb" allegations.

The indictment alleges that Padilla filled out a "mujahedin data form" to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan after being recruited by Hassoun at a mosque in Sunrise, Fla.

All three defendants could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on all charges. They are accused of providing material support to terrorists and of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people abroad, among other charges.

Padilla was never linked to any specific acts of terrorism or murder and, unlike his co-defendants, he was not accused of using purported code words like "tourism" for "jihad."

"Although everyone has been referring to this case as the Padilla trial, the government's case against Padilla has been pretty thin," said David O. Markus, a Miami defense attorney who has frequently written about the case on his legal blog (sdfla.blogspot.com). "I'm sure the government lawyers are sweating quite a bit right now."

When Padilla was arrested in 2002, he was carrying $10,526, a cellphone and e-mail addresses for Al Qaeda operatives. A month later, then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft interrupted a trip to Moscow to announce the arrest, saying Padilla was part of an Al Qaeda plot to set off a dirty bomb in the United States.

President Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant, and Padilla was held by the military.

Just before the Bush administration had to justify that decision to the Supreme Court, Padilla was transferred to civilian custody and was added in late 2005 to the Miami case.

The dirty-bomb allegations were dropped, and alleged admissions Padilla made to interrogators in a Navy brig have not been presented during the trial. That's partly because Padilla was not allowed to consult an attorney during questioning. Prosecutors also don't want to discuss Padilla's treatment at the brig, which Padilla's lawyers have said amounted to torture.

The key to the case against Padilla, according to attorneys and legal experts, is how much weight jurors give to the five-page mujahedin form he allegedly filled out in July 2000. Seven fingerprints matching Padilla's are on the form, which was recovered by the CIA in Afghanistan in December 2001.

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