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Trial Opens for Former 'Enemy Combatant' Padilla
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Trial Opens for Former 'Enemy Combatant' Padilla

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Trial Opens for Former 'Enemy Combatant' Padilla
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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

And I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In Miami today, accused al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla went on trial more than five years after he was arrested. Padilla and two other men are accused of being involved in a terrorist support cell in South Florida. The government alleges they provided money, equipment and other assistance to violent Islamic groups fighting overseas.

These are not the charges Padilla faced at the time of his arrest. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft accused him of plotting to set of a radioactive dirty bomb in the U.S. But if he sound guilty of the more recent charges, Padilla could face a life sentence.

NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from the federal courthouse in Miami. And Greg, the government has had five years to work on its case against Jose Padilla. How strong it?

GREG ALLEN: Well, Andrea, it's a lot less dramatic. And certainly, the one is that he was originally accused of - I think we all remember Attorney General John Ashcroft's news conference back in 2002 where he talked about the radioactive dirty bomb.

Then later, the charges kind of morphed a little bit, and they talked of, the government talked about Padilla being involved in a plan to blow up apartment buildings in this country using natural gas. He was held in military custody for two and a half years. And right when the case is getting ready to go to the Supreme Court, the government decided abruptly to transfer his case from the military courts to the civilian courts and that's where he ended up. They added his name to this indictment in Miami. And to be honest, the indictment is a whole a lot less sexy than the one he was charged with, but, as you say, it is still one that could take him to prison for life if found guilty.

SEABROOK: So what do prosecutors say Padilla did do?

ALLEN: Well, what they're talking about is what they say was a cell, basically of a few men here in South Florida that worked to raise money, foundling it to causes in Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, places where Islamic groups, Islamic jihad's were fighting and struggles. And Padilla, himself, is charged with providing support of the most immediate kind that he went and provide it himself. He joined as a recruit, went over to Afghanistan, where he then was charged with attending the al-Qaida training camp there.

SEABROOK: So, Greg, what kind of evidence does the government have? Do you have an idea?

ALLEN: Well, yeah. We're starting to get a sense of what the government has here in the first day of opening arguments. The key piece of evidence that we've heard about - and that they talked it again about today - is an application, if you can believe it to attend the al-Qaida training camp. This is an application the government said that Padilla filled out wit his birth date, his Arab name, the name of his sponsor. And they say even that it has his fingerprints on it. They all talk too much about how that document came in to their possession. That's likely to be a heated discussion as this trial goes forward.

One interesting witness they'll be bringing forward during the trial is an American citizen - another American citizen who went to Afghanistan. His name is Yayad Gobah(ph). You might remember the name. He was one of the so-called "Lack of Wanted of Six." This was a bunch of Arab-American men from Upstate New York, who went in and also trained over in Afghanistan. They were convicted and Gobah has testified in other cases for the government about what it is like to testify over there - to train over there. He didn't know - the government says he didn't necessarily know Padilla. He has nothing to link him to that, but he can talk about what a training camp is like.

And then the third body of evidence is phone calls. They have a lot of intercepted phone conversations, hundreds of hours. We're likely to get a small selection of those. Padilla's defense point out that he only spoke on a total of seven of those phone calls. And they say, none of those that he advocates violence. The government says they were talking in code. We'll see how those phone conversations play out as the trial goes forward.

SEABROOK: Greg, very quickly. What does Padilla's own defense say his relationship was with these three men?

ALLEN: Well, they say that Padilla, rather than wanting to become a violent Jihads is that his deepest ambition is to become an Imam. The, kind of, the leader of the group, Adham Hassoun, was a key figure who helped Padilla find the money to get to Egypt where he went to school, learned Arabic, and set him up over there. That's they say he wanted to do in terms of the application to the training camp in Afghanistan. They say that there's much about that document that's questionable. It was written - it was filled out in two different types of ink. There's a lot of different fingerprints on there, not just Padilla's. And so they think it will cast some questions about that document as they go forward.

SEABROOK: NPR's Greg Allen, outside the federal courthouse in Miami.

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