- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — After months of investigation, legal maneuvering and jury selection, federal prosecutors and attorneys for al Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla finally get to present their cases in a trial expected to last all summer.

Opening statements are scheduled today in the terrorism support trial of Mr. Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert, and two co-defendants.

“It is the single most important part of the trial in federal court,” said Milton Hirsch, a prominent Miami defense lawyer not involved in the Padilla case. “If we expect people to understand days if not weeks of evidence, some of it obscure, we had better give them a conceptual basis in opening statements for doing so.”

Mr. Padilla, 36, a U.S. citizen, 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” inside the U.S. and was held for 3 years at a Navy brig as an enemy combatant, but those accusations are not part of the Miami case.

“The crimes he has been charged with pale in comparison to the initial allegations,” said University of Miami law professor Stephen Vladeck. “This is a far cry from being a major front in the government’s war on terrorism.”

Instead, Mr. Padilla and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45, are accused of being part of a North American support cell for Muslim extremists in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. All have pleaded not guilty and face possible life in prison if convicted.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke refused to grant them separate trials, ruling that the government had ample evidence they were connected in a conspiracy, with Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi as recruiters, fundraisers and suppliers, and Mr. Padilla as one of their recruits.

To prove a conspiracy, prosecutors will have to show that each of the three was involved in at least one act to provide material support to Islamist groups. In Mr. Padilla’s case, a key piece of evidence is an application to attend an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan that prosecutors say he completed in July 2000 and which bears his fingerprints.

Defense lawyers will seek to raise questions in jurors’ minds about the authenticity of the form, whether Mr. Padilla actually completed it himself and whether there might be an alternative explanation for the presence of the fingerprints.

For Mr. Hassoun and Mr. Jayyousi, who were under FBI surveillance for much longer than Mr. Padilla, the jurors must interpret hundreds of telephone wiretaps, money transfers and entries in Mr. Jayyousi’s Islam Report newsletter.

Mr. Hassoun reputedly spoke in code when referring to weapons and military supplies, substituting words such as “soccer equipment” for guns and “tourism” for jihad or Muslim holy war, prosecutors say.

However, no specific acts of violence or victims are attributed to any of the defendants.

“The prosecution has to get the jurors to say that something reeks of terrorism here,” Mr. Hirsch said. “If they can make the jury believe this is a referendum on terrorism, never mind the particulars.”

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