Al Qaeda train­ing camp de­scribed in Padilla trial

A wit­ness tells the court he learned war tac­tics to de­fend Mus­lims.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - By Carol J. Wil­liams

mi­ami — A gov­ern­ment wit­ness tes­ti­fied Fri­day about the Al Qaeda train­ing camp ter­ror­ism de­fen­dant Jose Padilla is al­leged to have at­tended, but de­scribed the weapons and ex­plo­sives train­ing he re­ceived there as part of a re­li­gious duty to de­fend Mus­lims in for­eign con­flicts, not to en­gage in ter­ror­ism.

Yahya Goba, a 30-year-old U.S. cit­i­zen of Ye­meni de­scent, had been ex­pected to tell the jury about ter­ror­ist tac­tics es­poused by Al Qaeda at the Al Fa­rooq camp, where prose­cu­tors al­lege Padilla also had trained. Prose­cu­tors say Padilla at­tended the camp in the sum­mer of 2000; Goba was there in the spring of 2001.

Goba is serv­ing a 10-year sen­tence for con­spir­acy to aid a for­eign ter­ror­ist group. His tes­ti­mony came in the trial of Padilla, a for­mer Chicago gang mem­ber, and two other de­fen­dants.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Mar­cia Cooke warned gov­ern­ment at­tor­neys against try­ing to equate Goba’s ex­pe­ri­ences at Al Fa­rooq with what Padilla might have done at the camp, if he was ever there.

She also told the jury that Goba, con­victed four years ago as part of the “Lack­awanna Six” ter­ror­ism sup­port group, had no con­nec­tion to Padilla or two oth­ers on trial on charges of con­spir­acy to kill, kid­nap or maim peo­ple abroad and of ma­te­rial sup­port to ter­ror­ists.

Goba re­counted his jour­ney with fel­low Mus­lims from Lack­awanna, a sub­urb of Buf­falo, N.Y., via Lon­don, the United Arab Emi­rates and Pak­istan to the camp near Kan­da­har in south­ern Afghanistan.

Un­der the lim­its Cooke im­posed on prose­cu­tors to keep ques­tions rel­e­vant to the Padilla case, Goba dis­closed only that he spent six weeks at the camp with about 150 other for­eign­ers, mostly Arabs, train­ing in small groups to learn firearms, ex­plo­sives, war­fare tac­tics and map and com­pass read­ing.

The wit­ness, a portly, soft­spo­ken hus­band and fa­ther serv­ing a re­duced sen­tence in ex­change for co­op­er­a­tion in other gov­ern­ment cases, told the court he had filled out a “mu­ja­hedin data form” iden­ti­cal to the one that prose­cu­tors said Padilla signed and which they in­tro­duced as ev­i­dence Thurs­day.

Un­der ques­tion­ing from Asst. U.S. At­tor­ney Brian Fra­zier, Goba char­ac­ter­ized the train­ing as sim­i­lar to a mil­i­tary boot camp. But the wit­ness said noth­ing about ter­ror­ist aims of his own or of any­one else at the camp.

Un­der cross-ex­am­i­na­tion by Padilla’s pub­lic de­fender, Michael Caruso, Goba said he un­der­took the train­ing be­cause he wanted to help be­lea­guered Mus­lims in places like the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, Bos­nia, Chech­nya and Kosovo — the same aims de­fense lawyers have as­cribed to Padilla and co-de­fen­dants Ki­fah Wael Jayy­ousi and Adham Amin Has­soun.

“Are you now or have you ever been a ter­ror­ist?” Caruso be­gan, em­ploy­ing the phrase­ol­ogy of the Com­mu­nist witch hunts of the 1950s. “No,” replied Goba. He gave the same mono­syl­labic re­sponse when asked whether he ever in­tended to kill, kid­nap, maim or hurt any­one.

Jayy­ousi’s lead at­tor­ney, William Swor, sim­i­larly con­tested the pros­e­cu­tion’s por­trayal of “ji­had,” elic­it­ing from Goba that the Ara­bic word for “strug­gle” of­ten refers to peace­ful ef­forts to halt in­jus­tice. “It’s a dif­fer­ent ji­had to pro­tect and come to the aid of Mus­lims suf­fer­ing,” Goba, dressed in tan prison garb, said.

At the end of the first week of a trial ex­pected to last four months, the jury was left with a more be­nign pic­ture of what Goba en­gaged in and what Padilla has been ac­cused of pur­su­ing than the gov­ern­ment in­tended.

“The im­pres­sion is now left with the court that the only rea­son peo­ple go to this camp is for peace­ful rea­sons, the ‘in­ner strug­gle,’ ” Fra­zier fumed when Cooke re­fused to al­low him to probe Goba’s views of what Al Qaeda wanted from the train­ing.

“His goal here is to get Al Qaeda’s credo into this case through this wit­ness,” said Jeanne Baker, an at­tor­ney for Has­soun said of Fra­zier.

Cooke said she would de­cide this week­end whether to per­mit fur­ther ques­tion­ing of Goba when the trial re­sumes Mon­day.

Mean­while, a sec­ond ju­ror was dis­missed by Cooke when the court dis­cov­ered he isn’t a U.S. cit­i­zen — a fact in­di­cated on his ques­tion­naire but over­looked by the court. On Thurs­day, an­other black male ju­ror was ex­cused af­ter be­ing in­jured when he tried to thwart a car thief. Both re­place­ment ju­rors are Latino men, re­con­fig­ur­ing the jury to five Lati­nos, four whites and three African Amer­i­cans.

carol.wil­liams@la­times.com

Alan Diaz As­so­ci­ated Press

DE­FEN­DANT:

Prose­cu­tors say Jose Padilla, who is pic­tured in 2006, at­tended an Al Qaeda train­ing camp in Afghanistan.

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