After much delay and controversy. By Jay Weaver for the McClatchy Newspapers, with thanks to all who sent this in:
Miami | To the Bush administration, Jose Padilla’s path to terrorism was clear-cut: He was a convicted gang member in Chicago who later found Islam in South Florida before sojourning to the Middle East to become a soldier in “violent jihad.”
Padilla’s defense team paints a far different portrait: He was a troubled youth who straightened out his life after becoming a Muslim, then headed to the Middle East to immerse himself in Islamic culture.
Now, nearly five years after FBI agents arrested Padilla at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after he returned from Pakistan, America’s most notorious terror defendant – also dubbed the “dirty bomber” – will stand trial on Monday in a Miami federal courtroom.
Two other Muslim men – Sunrise computer programmer Adham Amin Hassoun and Detroit school administrator Kifah Wael Jayyousi – will stand alongside the 36-year-old Padilla. Each is accused of conspiring to assist Islamic extremists overseas. If convicted, the threesome face life in prison….
The jury questionnaire has nearly 100 questions – including one about the ability to keep an “open mind” about Arabs or Muslims charged with acts of violence.
“My biggest concern is publicity and the effect of that publicity,” said one of Padilla’s lawyers, Anthony Natale, last week. “If you say ‘dirty bomber,’ it rings the bong.”
Padilla was first accused in 2002 of plotting with al-Qaida to carry out a radiological “dirty bomb” attack on U.S. soil and to blow up apartment buildings in major U.S. cities.
‘Dirty bomb’ charges dropped
But Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was never charged with those crimes as a designated “enemy combatant” from 2002 to 2005. That designation was dropped in November 2005, when he was charged in a broadly framed terror indictment in Miami. Missing from the charges: the dirty bomb allegations. He and the other defendants are instead charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap and maim” people overseas and to provide “material support” for terrorist activity.
The case, described as “Padilla lite” because it lacks the dirty-bomb allegation, has not been as sensational as first envisioned by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Even U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who will preside over the trial, has been less than impressed. Last summer, she dismissed one charge, citing a violation of Padilla’s constitutional rights. Cooke even went so far as to say the prosecution’s case was “light on facts.”…
Much of the government’s case is built upon thousands of classified wiretaps of phone conversations among members of the alleged North American terror cell with links to the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area. The time frame: October 1993 to November 2001.
In the indictment, Hassoun, the suspected ringleader, and Jayyousi are accused of recruiting Mujahadeen fighters such as Padilla and raising funds for radical Islamic causes in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Somalia, Afghanistan and Egypt.
But the charges make no mention of any specific attacks, suggesting that the government’s case might come down to one of guilt by association.
Hassoun befriended Padilla when they attended the Masjid Al-Imam mosque in Fort Lauderdale during the 1990s. In 1998, Padilla left South Florida to Egypt, where he got married and had two children but remained in contact with Hassoun.
According to the indictment, Padilla traveled overseas to receive training for “violent jihad.” On July 24, 2000, Padilla is alleged to have filled out a “Mujahadeen Data Form” in preparation for training with al-Qaida in Afghanistan.