Trial Opens for Former 'Enemy Combatant' Padilla

Lindsay Mangum, NPR/Compiled from NPR staff and Associated Press reports.

Opening statements began Monday in the trial of accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla and two co-defendants whom federal prosecutors allege were part of a terrorism-support network in Miami.

Prosecutors allege that Padilla and his co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, were part of a secret organization in South Florida that provided money, equipment and recruits to extremist groups around the world.

"The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier told jurors in his opening statement.

Attorney Jeanne Baker, representing Hassoun, called the prosecution's case "a totally false picture."

The most serious charge against the three defendants — conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country — carries a potential life sentence. The trial is expected to last into August.

Padilla was arrested in May 2002 in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after arriving from Pakistan via Zurich, Sweden. The FBI arrested him as a material witness and jailed him in New York. A month later, President Bush designated Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, as an "enemy combatant," and the Justice Department disclosed that he was suspected of plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city. Padilla was transferred to a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina, where he was held in extreme isolation for three-and-a-half years.

After the Supreme Court ruled in another case that American citizens cannot he held without being charged, without access to counsel and without some due process of law, the government transferred Padilla to the civilian courts. He was added to a criminal indictment already filed in Miami. The "dirty bomb" allegations are not part of the Miami indictment.

Much of the prosecution's case will be based on intercepted phone conversations between Padilla and the other defendants. Another key piece of evidence is an application to attend an al-Qaida training camp, allegedly filled out by Padilla and acquired by a CIA agent in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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