MIAMI – Jose Padilla traveled overseas to peacefully study Arabic and Islam and not to train as an al-Qaida terrorist, his lawyer said in closing arguments Tuesday in a case rooted in 2002 allegations that he plotted to detonate a “dirty bomb” in the U.S.
Far from being the “star recruit” of a terrorism support cell as prosecutors claim, defense attorney Michael Caruso told jurors that the evidence – including phone calls intercepted by the FBI from 1993 to 2001 – shows only that Padilla went to Egypt in September 1998 to further his studies after converting to Islam.
“His intent was to study, not to murder,” Caruso said.
Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen, was held for 31/2 years without charge as an enemy combatant in a Navy brig after his 2002 arrest for the purported dirty bomb plot.
Amid a legal fight over President Bush’s authority to continue holding Padilla, he was added to a Miami terrorism support case in late 2005. Prosecutors contend three men were part of a North American support cell providing money, supplies and recruits – including Padilla – for Islamic extremists.
The “dirty bomb” allegations were quietly dropped.
After a three-month trial, jurors were expected to begin deliberating today the guilt or innocence of Padilla and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, both 45. They face life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and as many as 15 years behind bars if convicted of two terrorism material support counts.
The critical piece of prosecution evidence is a “mujahedeen data form” Padilla allegedly filled out in July 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. The form bears seven of his fingerprints, but Caruso said they are found only on the first page and the back of the final page – consistent with Padilla simply handling the form, rather than writing on it.
His voice was heard on only seven of more than 300,000 FBI wiretaps and on a few others in which others discussed his whereabouts.