Padilla guilty of aiding terrorists; American faces life sentence
MIAMI — Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, was convicted Aug. 16 of helping Islamic extremists and plotting overseas attacks.
Padilla, wearing a dark suit and wire-rimmed glasses, showed no emotion and stared straight ahead as he heard the verdict that could bring him a life sentence in prison.
When Padilla was arrested in the months after the 2001 terrorist attacks, authorities said he was an al Qaeda terrorist who planned to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city. That accusation never made it to court.
Instead, after a three-month trial and only a day and a half of deliberations, the 36-year-old Padilla and his foreign-born co-defendants were convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and two counts of providing material support to terrorists.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke set a Dec. 5 sentencing date.
The three were accused of being part of a North American support cell that provided supplies, money and recruits to groups of Islamic extremists. The defense contended they were trying to help persecuted Muslims in war zones with relief and humanitarian aid.
The White House thanked the jury for a “just” verdict.
“Wecommendthejuryforitswork in this trial and thank it for upholding a core American principle of impartial justice for all,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.
Estela Lebron, Padilla’s mother, said outside the courthouse, “The winner is George Bush.” Earlier in the courtroom, she said she felt “a little bit sad” at the verdict but expected her son’s lawyers would appeal.
“I don’t know how they found Jose guilty. There was no evidence he was speaking in code,” she said, referring to FBI wiretap intercepts in which Padilla was overheard talking to co-defendant Adham Amin Hassoun.
Attorneys for Hassoun and the third defendant, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both said they intended to appeal. There was no immediate comment from Padilla’s lawyers.
Members of the jury declined interview requests from the press and were escorted out of the courthouse through a side exit by U.S. marshals.
The charges brought in civilian court in Miami were a shadow of those initial dirty bomb claims in part because Padilla was interrogated in a military brig and was not read his Miranda rights.
Padilla’s attorneys fought for years to get his case into federal court, and he finally was added to the Miami terrorism support indictment in late 2005 just as the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to consider President Bush’s authority to continue detaining him.
Padilla, a Muslim convert from Chicago, had lived in South Florida in the 1990s and supposedly was recruited by Hassoun at a mosque to become a mujahedeen fighter.
The key piece of physical evidence was a five-page form Padilla supposedly filled out in July 2000 to attend an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, which would link the other two defendants as well to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization.
The form, recovered by the CIA in 2001 in Afghanistan, contained seven of Padilla’s fingerprints and several other personal identifiers, such as his birth date and his ability to speak Spanish, English and Arabic.
“He provided himself to al Qaeda for training to learn to murder, kidnap and maim,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier said in closing arguments.
Associated Press writers Sarah Larimer in Miami and Deb Reichmann in Crawford, Texas, contributed to this report.
This courtroom drawing shows Jose Padilla, right, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier, left, as the verdict is read in Padilla’s terrorism trial in Miami on Aug. 16.