- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

MIAMI — Prosecutors in the trial of terror suspect Jose Padilla can make references to the September 11 attacks, but they cannot assert that Padilla and two co-defendants were involved in planning or executing them, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled yesterday before beginning jury selection in the case.

After a somewhat heated exchange between Judge Cooke and prosecutor John Shipley, the judge stressed that “any idea, through inference or otherwise, that these defendants are connected to 9/11 is not available to the government.”

“If it’s not what this case is about, it should not be brought into this case,” she said, acknowledging, however, that it would be “naive” to attempt to ban all references to the worst terror attacks perpetrated on American soil in the course of a trial expected to last four or five months.

Mr. Shipley said that the prosecution did not intend to create a direct link between the September 11 attacks formulated by al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. Rather they would seek to establish a link between Mr. Padilla, co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi and the international terror network that orchestrated them.

“It’ll be a tightrope. … They can’t try to punish these defendants for 9/11,” noted Steve Welsh, a research analyst for the International Security Law Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

The 36-year-old Mr. Padilla, who appeared in court yesterday wearing a gray suit instead of the orange prison jumpsuit he wore for his pre-trial competency hearing, has been charged along with Mr. Hassoun, 45, and Mr. Jayyousi, 44, with being part of a U.S.-based support cell for Islamists fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Bosnia, Chechnya and Tajikistan.

Mr. Padilla — U.S.-born convert to Islam first arrested in 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan — is the focal point of an ongoing legal drama that Jayyousi lawyer William Swor asserted was in reality a trial pitting “the United States versus Islam.”

Shortly after Mr. Padilla’s 2002 arrest, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said federal law-enforcement officials had thwarted an al Qaeda plot involving Mr. Padilla to detonate a “dirty bomb.” Those charges have since been dropped because the evidence obtained during interrogations was ruled inadmissible. Shortly after that 2005 ruling, the Bush administration then linked Mr. Padilla to an ongoing case in Miami accusing him and other defendants of aiding terror groups worldwide.

Defense attorneys say that little real evidence ties Mr. Padilla and the other defendants to specific terror attacks. Prosecutors plan to rely heavily on the FBI wiretaps in which Mr. Padilla’s voice can be heard and others in which he is mentioned by name. One clandestinely taped conversation mentions that Mr. Padilla has gone to “the area of Osama,” a supposed reference to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

Jury selection for the trial, scheduled to begin May 1, apparently went smoothly yesterday, with a handful of jurors being eliminated the first day.

The 17 potential jurors questioned were asked to elaborate on answers from a 115-item questionnaire each had completed. Among the questions asked were whether they were knowledgeable about foreign conflicts involving “Muslims or people of Arab descent” and their opinions about such words as “Islamic” and “Radical Islamic Fundamentalism.”

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