Qaeda recruit Padilla sentenced to 17 years
MIAMI (Reuters) - Jose Padilla, a Chicago gang member once accused by the Bush administration of plotting a radioactive bomb attack, was sentenced by a U.S. court on Tuesday to 17 years and four months in prison for supporting terrorism.
Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted in August on charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, and providing material support for terrorism.
The case tested U.S. presidential authority in the war against terrorism and the convictions were hailed by the Bush administration as an important reminder of the threat the nation faced.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke rejected prosecutors' contention that the crimes deserved life prison sentences, noting that while they were "serious," there were no acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, no attacks on officials nor any plot to overthrow the U.S. government.
"There was no evidence the defendants had personally killed or maimed anyone," she said.
"The sentence will serve to inform others ... that conspiracy to support murder, maiming and kidnapping will not be tolerated in this country."
Padilla's co-defendant, Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi, were sentenced to 15 years and eight months and 12 years and eight months, respectively. All three had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Padilla, a Muslim convert turned al Qaeda recruit, was arrested in Chicago upon his return from abroad in 2002 and initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive, or "dirty," bomb in a U.S. city.
HELD WITHOUT CHARGE
President George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to hold him as an "enemy combatant" without charge, and Padilla was detained in isolation and interrogated in a military brig for 3 1/2 years.
But Padilla was never charged with plotting a bomb attack. After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review whether he could be held without charge by presidential order, the government added him to the Miami case and turned him over to civilian authorities.
"It's a tragedy that Mr. Padilla has to spend another day in prison," his lawyer, Michael Caruso, said after the sentencing.
Cooke said she took into account the harsh conditions of Padilla's imprisonment before the Miami case began, saying at times he had no mattress, no books, no entertainment and no contact with relatives.
"I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla ... that they warrant consideration of the court" in sentencing, she said.
Padilla's mother, Estela LeBron, clapped her hands in the courtroom after the sentence was read and outside the court said she was "very happy."
"They tried to fabricate a case but there was no evidence," she said. "They wanted to send him to die in prison but the government's little game didn't work out."
"He's not a terrorist. He's not an enemy combatant. He's not a member of the Taliban. He's just a human being."
Padilla did not testify at his trial and defense lawyers argued that he had gone to Egypt to peacefully study Islam and Arabic. The main evidence against him was an application to attend an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
Most of the trial focused on intercepted phone calls in which Hassoun and Jayyousi discussed picnics, vegetables and sporting events in the 1990s. Government witnesses said those were coded references to supplies and recruits intended for wars in Chechnya, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Lawyers for Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian computer programmer, and Jayyousi, a Jordanian-born U.S. citizen and Navy veteran, argued that they supported charities providing legitimate aid to Muslim victims of atrocities.
(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton and Jim Loney; editing by Michael Christie and Mohammad Zargham)
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