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Prosecutors fire fusillade of ‘al-Qaidas’ as Padilla terror trial opens

(AP) A federal prosecutor said “al-Qaida” 91 times in just over an hour as he made his opening arguments Monday against Jose Padilla and two co-defendants accused of supporting Islamic extremists. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier also mentioned Osama bin Laden several times and dwelt on allegations that Padilla attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. 

Launching a fight they’ll face throughout the trial, lawyers for Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi took turns trying to jar the jury’s attention from what they called the prosecution’s smear tactics. Prosecutors were essentially saying, “We’re going to make the jury afraid in this case. We’re going to say, ‘Al-Qaida, al-Qaida, al-Qaida,'” Jayyousi lawyer William Swor said. 

“The government really is trying to put al-Qaida on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom,” Hassoun lawyer Jeanne Baker said. 

Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and the others are accused of providing money, recruits and military equipment for nearly a decade to Islamic extremists involved in violence worldwide. 

“The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” Frazier told the jury. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” 

Defense attorneys argued that Hassoun and Jayyousi, both 45, were simply assisting oppressed Muslims in war-torn regions and that Padilla, 36, was a peaceful Islamic convert interesting in studying his religion overseas. 

Anthony Natale, Padilla’s attorney, said authorities blew the case out of proportion in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

“Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he said. 

Evidence includes hundreds of FBI wiretap intercepts translated from Arabic, boxloads of documents ranging from bank records to passports, and dozens of witnesses. 

If convicted of the main charge of conspiracy to “murder, kidnap and maim” people overseas, the defendants could face life in prison. They also face terrorism material support charges that carry lesser sentences. 

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, has been in federal custody since his May 2002 arrest at O’Hare International Airport. He was initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the U.S. and held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant at a Navy brig, but those allegations are not part of the Miami indictment. 

He was added to the Miami case in late 2005 amid a legal battle over the president’s wartime detention powers involving U.S. citizens. His lawyers had fought for years to get him before a federal judge. 

A key piece of evidence against Padilla one that ties the other two to al-Qaida is an application to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan that prosecutors say he completed in July 2000 using the name “Abu Abdullah al-Mujahir.” They also say it bears his fingerprints. 

Padilla’s lawyer said his client’s fingerprints appear on only the first and last pages on the outside, suggesting it may have simply been handed to him, Natale said. 

Frazier said Padilla agreed to be recruited by Hassoun as a prospective mujahedeen fighter to be trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Padilla met Hassoun at mosques in Broward County, where both lived, and Hassoun frequently gave fiery speeches about religion and politics. 

“Jose Padilla was an al-Qaida terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support himself,” Frazier said. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” 

Natale said Padilla was considering becoming an imam. 

Hassoun and Jayyousi provided Padilla and others with recruits, military equipment and money for conflicts in global hot spots, often using Islamic charitable organizations as a conduit, Frazier said. 

Another Hassoun lawyer, Kenneth Swartz, said that prosecutors were “distorting history” and that the true purpose was to assist downtrodden and oppressed Muslims. 

“This is not the war on terrorism,” Swartz said. “This is about people who were trying to help.”

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May 15, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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