MIAMI — A federal judge in Miami yesterday dealt a major blow to terrorist suspect Jose Padilla and his two co-defendants charged with aiding terrorism abroad, ruling that prosecutors could play for the jury an excerpt of the infamous 1997 Osama bin Laden interview with CNN in which the terrorist mastermind foreshadows attacks against the United States.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled, however, that bin Laden's allusions to attacks against the United States — "You will see and hear about them in the media, God willing" — would not be shown to the jury when the trial reconvenes today.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have hotly debated the mention of bin Laden, al Qaeda and the September 11 attacks in the trial of Mr. Padilla, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi.
The three are accused of providing money, equipment and material support to terrorist organizations abroad. Mr. Padilla also faces a charge of being a willing recruit of al Qaeda.
Before the trial's inception late last month, the defense petitioned Judge Cooke to prevent prosecution witnesses from referring to the mastermind of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and his terrorist network. Judge Cooke ruled that the prosecution could not connect the three defendants to the September 11 attacks.
Now in the trial's sixth week, prosecutors appear to have found a way to introduce bin Laden, al Qaeda and the September 11 attacks into evidence by way of FBI-wiretapped conversations. Prosecutors contend these conversations — responses to bin Laden's 1997 interview — illustrate Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi's "state of mind" toward jihad, or holy wars, in places such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and Chechnya.
Prosecutors also plan to play for the jury two clandestinely recorded conversations in which Mr. Hassoun, after watching the bin Laden video, supposedly says, "May Allah [God] protect him."
"This is the video the defendants themselves watched ... and celebrated," said federal prosecutor John Shipley.
Attorneys for Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi contested the prosecution's assertions that the suspects celebrated bin Laden's remarks or considered them a rallying call to terrorism.
The CNN interview takes places in an undisclosed location in northeastern Afghanistan near Jalalabad. From the remote locale in what appears to be a cave, bin Laden granted what turned out to be his last broadcast interview.
In it, he condemns the United States for its support of Israel and declares a jihad for the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the location of Islam's two holiest cities.
After the interview was presented during sidebar deliberations yesterday, Judge Cooke voiced concern about how the defendants' comments would resonate with jurors years after the September 11 attacks. She said remarks "that may have seemed innocuously supportive prior to 9/11 now seem almost malignant."
Mr. Padilla's lead attorney, Anthony Natale, told Judge Cooke that unless a strongly worded caution was issued informing the jury that his client never saw nor commented on the interview, he would call for a mistrial.