- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

MIAMI (AP) — It’s been nearly five years since Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that the U.S. had thwarted an al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major city and had arrested Jose Padilla in the scheme.

Mr. Ashcroft suggested that the plot could have caused “mass death and injury” and said President Bush had designated Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant who would be held in indefinite military custody rather than face civilian charges. However, as jury selection begins today, the case against Mr. Padilla has no mention of the “dirty bomb” accusations or purported plots inside the U.S.

Instead, Mr. Padilla, held for 3 years as an enemy combatant, and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun, 45, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, 44, face charges of conspiracy to “murder, kidnap and maim” people overseas and of providing support to terror groups. All three pleaded not guilty. They face life in prison if convicted.

“It has had so many unbelievable twists and turns,” said Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor who directs the school’s Center for Health and Homeland Security. “It really will be the stuff of legend in terms of how we attempted to deal with terrorists in the war on terror.”

The three are accused of being part of a North American support cell that funneled fighters, money and supplies to Islamic extremists fighting Muslim holy wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Tajikistan and elsewhere around the world. The trial is expected to take at least four months.

The shadow of the September 11 attacks hangs over the case. Dozens of potential jurors mentioned the attacks when they filled out questionnaires meant to gauge their ability to be fair and impartial.

“It is not going to be possible to eradicate 9/11 from the thoughts of jurors,” said Philip Anthony, chief executive officer of the national jury consulting firm DecisionQuest.

Prosecutors say Mr. Hassoun acted as a South Florida recruiter and fundraiser for violent Muslim causes. Mr. Padilla, 36, a one-time member of Chicago’s Latin Disciples street gang who had moved to Florida, became one of the warrior recruits. Mr. Padilla had converted to Islam in a Florida prison while serving a year for a 1991 weapons conviction.

A key piece of evidence is a purported “mujahedeen data form,” which prosecutors say Mr. Padilla completed in 2000 — his fingerprints are on it — to join an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

Mr. Jayyousi’s purported role was publication of the “Islam Report,” which prosecutors say was used to spread Islamist ideology and assist in fundraising and terror support. Mr. Jayyousi contends that he was only reporting on global events of Muslim interest, and his attorney says prosecutors are attempting to expand the case into a trial of Islamic political and religious groups.

“The trial will ultimately become the United States versus Islam,” said Jayyousi attorney William Swor.

Prosecutors say that the conspiracy goes back more than a decade and that they have more than 50,000 intercepted telephone calls and bugged conversations in Arabic with purported code words.

“Critical to the government’s proving its case is persuading the jury that all the dots in what it claims was an international conspiracy can be connected,” said Carl Tobias, law professor at the University of Richmond.

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