- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

MIAMI — Federal prosecutors yesterday characterized Jose Padilla and his two co-defendants as ardent believers in “violent jihad” who spent nearly a decade raising money and providing military equipment and recruits to Islamic terrorism groups the world over.

In their opening statements in the trial of the former “dirty bomb” suspect, prosecutors accused Mr. Padilla, along with Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, of belonging to the so-called “South Florida Support Cell” that facilitated the transfer of money and aid to terrorists in Somalia, Lebanon, Chechnya and elsewhere.

“The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier to the jury in a Miami district court. “The planning was done here, the money was raised here, and the recruiting done here.”

But defense attorneys for the trio countered that little evidence ties the defendants to specific terrorist attacks and accused federal authorities of trying to spin a thinly documented conspiracy theory short on facts and long on speculation.

Mr. Hassoun’s defense attorney Jeanne Baker countered the prosecution’s assertions saying the federal government was “trying to put al Qaeda on trial in this case.”

Anthony Natale, defense attorney for Mr. Padilla, said in his opening remarks that “there were a disturbing number of discrepancies” in the prosecution’s case, noting the “absence of hard evidence linking any of the men to any terror or violent acts.

“They’ve [prosecutors] substituted a lack of evidence with theories and maybes,” said Mr. Natale.

Defense lawyers say their clients had no violent intent while aiding Muslims in such conflicts as Bosnia-Herzegovina, during which tens of thousands of Muslims were killed during the 1990s.

In their opening statements, prosecutors painted a portrait of the group of three men as one of many “cells” that al Qaeda had grown to rely on worldwide to wage violent jihad.

U.S. attorneys said that during the trial, expected to last several months, they would play for jurors some 100 FBI wire-tapped conversations among the three men in which they supposedly express their desire to aid al Qaeda’s cause overseas.

In addition to charges of aiding terrorism, the 36-year-old Mr. Padilla faces the additional count of partaking in terrorist training at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Prosecutors contend they have an al Qaeda document that proves the U.S.-born Muslim convert had in fact joined the group, noting his fingerprints were on its pages.

Mr. Padilla was said to have admitted to federal officials his involvement in a scheme to detonate a nuclear device and to training with al Qaeda during his 3 year incarceration in a military prison. Those confessions have been ruled inadmissible as evidence however since Mr. Padilla had not been read his Miranda rights, nor had legal counsel present at the time.

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