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Padilla jury hears him talk in cryptic decade-old call

The terror suspect tells his alleged recruiter he is ready for his mission.

June 09, 2007|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — A month into the trial of terrorism suspect Jose Padilla, the jury heard the defendant's voice for the first time Friday, in a tape of a 10-year-old wiretapped phone call in which he tells his alleged recruiter that he is ready to set off on a mission to help embattled Muslims abroad.

Along with at least two dozen other tapes played for the jury this week, the conversation between Padilla and Lebanese-born Adham Amin Hassoun was cryptic, and the exact nature of the mission is never named.

"It's gonna happen soon," Padilla says in a deep, tough-sounding voice. He left South Florida for Egypt 15 months later.

Padilla, originally charged with planning to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city, is on trial with Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi on federal charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism and offering material support to terrorists.

Hassoun's wife, Nahed, commented to one caller -- who phoned to convey suspicions that Hassoun was under surveillance -- that "we know that the lines are always ... always monitored, but Adham doesn't care ... he talks."

More than 100 taped discussions are to be played at the trial, which is expected to last through August.

The discussions played for the jury covered mostly logistic matters: how to get a satellite telephone to Muslim rebels in Chechnya, how to get money to would-be holy warriors in the Middle East, how to move volunteers to Kosovo or Bosnia to help defend Muslims under siege by Serbian and Croatian Christians.

For the jurors, it was a global history lesson ranging back to the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, involving complicated conflicts.

Prosecutors jumped from year to year and battle to battle in a presentation apparently aimed at providing the jury with a glossary of allegedly coded language, such as using the word "tourism" in the place of jihad, "getting married" for killed in battle, "green goods" for money and "iron" for weaponry.

The overall effect of the rapid-fire tour of the world's hotspots might have been to show the jury how keenly Hassoun and Jayyousi followed the fate of Muslims under attack abroad and how passionately they sought to help them. The tone and language of the talks also may have left an impression that the men were trying to hide something and up to no good.

But there has been no mention in the evidence presented so far of any intent by the three defendants to murder, maim or kidnap people in foreign countries, the wording of the conspiracy charge against them.

Nor has any evidence been presented that the Muslims whom the accused sought to assist were then considered or identified as members of terrorist organizations.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Brian Frazier walked the jury through each of the taped conversations by questioning FBI case agent John Kavanaugh about his understanding of the true meanings of the words.

Frazier and three other government lawyers prosecuting the trio have cast Hassoun and Jayyousi as the respective ideological and logistical leaders of a North American terrorist support cell in operation since the early 1990s.

Hassoun, a computer programming expert from Sunrise, Fla., and Jayyousi, who has a doctorate and previously held senior education administration positions in California and Michigan, appear to have come to the attention of U.S. security due to their contacts with Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. A radical Egyptian cleric, Rahman was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Hassoun, who at a mosque in Sunrise often railed against oppression of Muslims abroad, is accused of calling on Padilla and others to wage holy war against the enemies of Islam.

U.S. eavesdropping on Hassoun and Jayyousi began in 1993 and covered more than 300,000 phone calls over the dozen years before their 2005 indictment on the terrorism support charges.

Padilla, now 36, was arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on a warrant obtained while he was flying there from Europe after almost four years abroad, mostly in Egypt, where he married and studied Arabic and the Koran.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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