MIAMI – Jurors began deliberations Wednesday after three months of testimony in the trial of Jose Padilla and two co-defendants on charges of operating a support cell for Islamic terrorists, including Al Qaeda.
The ethnically diverse panel of seven men and five women has heard witness accounts and dozens of phone conversations intercepted by the FBI, most of them in Arabic, during an investigation spanning from 1993 to 2001.
Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant following his May 2002 arrest as authorities initially claimed he was part of an Al Qaeda plot to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. He was added in late 2005 to an existing Miami terrorism support indictment amid a legal battle over President Bush's authority to continue detaining him without charge.
The "dirty bomb" allegations disappeared and are not included in the trial, in part because Padilla was never provided a lawyer or read his Miranda rights when he was interrogated about the alleged plot while in military custody.
Padilla, 36, and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45, face life in prison if convicted on charges of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and up to 15 years on each of two terrorism material support counts.
Prosecutors say the three were part of a North American network to supply Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia and elsewhere with mujahedeen fighters, money and military equipment.
They contend the defendants had phone conversations in code, using words and phrases such as "tourism" and "smelling fresh air" to mean "jihad." Defense attorneys disputed those interpretations.
Prosecutor Brian Frazier said Padilla was the group's star recruit who filled out a form in 2000 to attend an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
"There was only one purpose to go to these camps, and that was to learn to kill," Frazier said Tuesday in closing rebuttal arguments.
Defense lawyers for Hassoun and Jayyousi say they were focused solely on providing humanitarian aid to persecuted Muslims, not violence. And Padilla's attorneys say he traveled overseas not to join Al Qaeda but to study Islam and Arabic in Egypt.