MIAMI (Reuters) - Jose Padilla, a U.S. convert to Islam once accused by the Bush administration of plotting a radiological “dirty bomb” attack, was convicted on Thursday of unrelated charges he offered his services to terrorists.
Padilla, 36, faces a possible life prison term, as do two co-defendants convicted alongside him. He was stone-faced and stared straight ahead as the verdict was read.
“Of course we’re going to appeal,” said his mother, Estela Lebron, who was at the Miami courthouse for the judgment. “You need to understand, this is a Republican city. I‘m not surprised of anything in this place any more.”
Jurors in Miami found Padilla guilty of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons abroad, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, and providing material support for terrorism.
Padilla was arrested in 2002 and President George W. Bush ordered him held in a military prison as an “enemy combatant.”
But faced with legal challenges to the president’s authority to jail a person without charge, prosecutors added Padilla to an existing terrorism support case in Miami and never charged him with any bomb plot.
He was turned over to civilian authorities in 2006.
A White House spokesman welcomed the verdict and said Padilla received a fair trial.
“We commend the jury for its work in this trial and thank it for upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
The jury also convicted co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi on the same three charges. The judge set sentencing for December 5.
“U.S. VERSUS ISLAM”
“Non-Muslims who made these same statements and did these same actions would not have been prosecuted,” said William Swor, one of Jayyousi’s lawyers who had previously characterized the case as “U.S. versus Islam.”
The three Muslim men were accused of forming a Florida support cell that provided money and recruits for Islamist radicals seeking to establish Taliban-style governments in nations where Muslims lived.
Padilla’s lawyers said Padilla moved to Egypt in 1998 to study Arabic and Islam and was not involved in any violence. Prosecutors said the former Chicago street gang member went on to an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan to train as a killer.
Defense lawyers said the other two men contributed to legitimate charities that gave aid to Muslim victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya in the 1990s.
Jurors, whose names were kept secret, deliberated for about 11 hours after three months of trial in Miami and declined to publicly discuss their verdict. Padilla’s lawyers also declined comment.
In a color-coordinated display of their patriotism, the jurors wore red, white and blue clothing to court before breaking for a July 4th recess.
In Washington, Acting Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford said prosecutions such as Padilla’s were central to neutralizing the threat posed by terrorists and their supporters.
“This case serves as a vivid reminder of the serious threat that we face and the need for continued diligence and resolve as we address that threat,” Morford said.
But one of Hassoun’s lawyers, Jeanne Baker, said, “This does not add at all to the safety of our country and it’s not a just verdict.”
Padilla and Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian computer programmer, have both been jailed for more than five years. Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan who once served in the U.S. Navy, had been out on bond during the trial but was taken into federal custody after the verdict was read.
Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami, Jim Vicini in Washington and Matt Spetalnick in Crawford, Texas.