MIAMI (Reuters) - U.S. citizen Jose Padilla was the “star recruit” for a Florida terrorism support cell that sent the former dirty bomb suspect to an al Qaeda camp to learn how to kill, a prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments on Monday.
The high-profile terrorism case against Padilla and two co-defendants is expected to go to the jury on Tuesday.
All three face life in prison if convicted on charges that they provided material support for Islamist terrorist groups and conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries from 1993 to 2001.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier told jurors that the three were associated with al Qaeda, “which is really just a murder conspiracy with a name.”
He said defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi recruited and financed the training of Islamist fighters who plotted to kill anyone who opposed their plan to establish strict Taliban-style governments everywhere Muslims lived.
Hassoun recruited Padilla at a south Florida mosque both attended and arranged for him to go to an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, Frazier said.
“Training with al Qaeda was a crime because al Qaeda trained people to kill,” he said.
Wiretapped phone conversations between Padilla and Hassoun demonstrate that Padilla was patient and secretive, Frazier said.
“This is why he was a star recruit,” he said.
Padilla’s lawyers, who did not call any witnesses during the three-month trial, argue that he went to Egypt to learn Arabic and study Islam, and that members of the Florida mosque donated money to finance his studies.
Lawyers for Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian, and Jayyousi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, said they worked with charities that provided legitimate aid to Muslims who were being slaughtered in Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere.
The main evidence against Padilla is what the government calls an al Qaeda application form bearing his fingerprints, birthdate and similar background. It was recovered in Afghanistan and says the author speaks English, Spanish and Arabic, graduated from high school and trained as a carpenter, as Padilla did.
It used a name prosecutors contend was Padilla’s alias, and lists as his sponsor a man whose name was in Padilla’s address book when he was arrested.
Padilla’s defense is expected to argue his fingerprints could have got on the form when investigators handed it to him to examine after his arrest.
The government has presented only indirect evidence Padilla ever went to Afghanistan. In other secretly recorded phone calls, another alleged recruit tells Hassoun that Padilla has gone to Afghanistan via Yemen and has entered “the land of Osama.”
Padilla, 36, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in May 2002 upon returning from Egypt and was accused by the Bush administration of plotting to set off a radioactive bomb.
President George W. Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” and ordered him imprisoned by the military. Padilla was held without charge for 3-1/2 years before being indicted in a civilian court in November 2005 on charges that do not mention any bomb plot.
The bomb allegations came from alleged al Qaeda operatives who have said they were tortured during interrogation before being sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Anything Padilla might have told interrogators in the military brig about such a plot would be inadmissible because he was denied access to an attorney for most of the time he was there.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke told jurors that in order to convict, they must find the defendants knew their donations would be used for illegal purposes. But the defendants, who are all Muslims, cannot use their faith as a justification for any acts they knew to be illegal, she said.