Jose Padilla may not have been a major player in al Qaeda's war on America, but one thing seems certain: the south Florida environment that "produced" him is a hotbed of Islamist extremism, as this Washington Post piece on Padilla's background reveals.

We're not talking about a network of evil geniuses here, but rather a widespread subculture that attracts disaffected converts and steers them towards anti-American Islamist radicalism. Some of it is scary, while some of it appears to be quite innocuous. Some of it is simply pathetic. 

You've got firebrand agitators with ties to international terror funding (like Adham A. Hassoun of Sunrise, Fla., arrested Wednesday); fundraisers for "charity" front organizations that funnel money to terrorist groups (Raed Awad, for example, former imam of the mosque attended by Padilla and Hassoun); and most of the Sept. 11 hijackers spent at least some time living and training there before the attacks. 

But the shadowy "infrastructure" in Sunrise, Fla., also seems to have included the local Taco Bell, where recent converts Padilla and his wife Cherie and their manager Mohammed Javed all worked together. 

For some reason, the anecdote about Padilla's Taco Bell name tag still makes me giggle: 

In early 1993, after about six months on the job, Padilla told Javed that he had taken the name Ibrahim. Javed, the founder of a Muslim school in Sunrise, knew his employee had taken the shahadah oath, a declaration of faith that marks a conversion to Islam. But Javed refused to change Padilla's name tag because the name change was not yet official, and Padilla accepted the decision without argument. 

Yes, they run a tight ship down at the Al Qaeda Taco Bell. You can't just start using your terrorist name without the proper authorization. All name tag changes must be cleared in advance by the shift manager. And when the name tag decision is handed down, you don't argue: you salute smartly and charge up the hill.

Those Civil Liberties Again

The Washington Post's second editorial on the civil liberties implications of indefinite detention of American citizens like Padilla is right on the money:

International law permits the detention of captured enemy soldiers, even those who have committed no crimes, and it would be reckless of the government simply to release people bent on detonating dirty bombs. The question is not whether the government can detain an enemy combatant bent on doing America great harm but whether it can designate anyone it chooses as such a person without meaningful review.

The government's position would be easier to swallow were it not actively seeking to frustrate judicial review of the president's designations. When the government detains a citizen as an enemy combatant, that person must be permitted to consult with counsel and challenge the lawfulness of the detention in court. Without that, every citizen is at the mercy of presidential whim...

The idea of indefinite detentions of Americans who have not been convicted of any crime is alarming under any circumstances. Without the meaningful supervision of the courts, it is a dangerous overreach of presidential power. If such a thing were happening in any other country, Americans would know exactly what to call it.

The "enemy combatant" category is a legitimate one, but when it comes to U.S. citizens there ought to be some sort of civilian legal procedure for determining this status in order to ensure that it is applied justly and non-arbitrarily.

Michael Kelly is, for once, dead wrong when he says that batting around such concerns about civil liberties is a needless "ritual" that should be dispensed with. On the contrary, vigilance against government over-reach is always necessary. I believe the government could make a good case that an Al Qaeda member like Jose Padilla ought to be detained as an enemy combatant. It's not too much to ask that they be required actually to make it.

The Egyptian Connection

Here's a report claiming that Egyptian authorities "foiled an attempt by Al Qaeda to forge cooperation between Islamic insurgents in Egypt and the United States." The al Qaeda agent? Jose Padilla.

Arab diplomatic sources said the attempt was conducted by Jose Padilla, a suspected Al Qaida agent arrested in Islamabad and now in U.S. custody. The sources said Egyptian officials have relayed to Washington information that Padilla tried to negotiate a cooperation accord with the Jihad organization. 

Padilla, the sources said, was believed to have been an envoy of Jihad leader Ayman Zawahari, the chief deputy of Saudi fugitive Osama Bin Laden. Zawahari has been seeking to renew the Islamic insurgency against the Egyptian regime. 

The London-based Al Hayat daily reported on Thursday that Padilla arrived in Cairo in March to meet Jihad representatives. The newspaper said Egyptian authorities were informed of the meeting and forced Padilla to leave the country.

None of these "sources" seem very reliable, and the report does get a rather important detail wrong (i.e., the city in which Padilla was arrested.) Moreover, I suppose the Egyptian government might have very good reasons for puffing up its counter-terrorist activities and connecting its enemies to America's current jihadi of note. But, for what it's worth, the Padilla presented here is no "small fry." As Fred Pruitt puts it:

That would seem to promote Padilla/al-Muhajir out of the "cog" category and into greater things — maybe even into the lower rungs of the Big Shot category. The fact that he screwed it up is beside the point... 

Dr. Frank is the singer and songwriter of noted punk band The Mr. T Experience. In addition to being a full-time pretend rock star, he also appears as a part-time pretend pundit on his weblog, The Blogs of War.

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