MIAMI — A Muslim convert testified Tuesday that he grew suspicious and distanced himself from the leader of an Islamic charity after an associate returned from war-torn Chechnya with part of a leg missing from a land mine explosion.
Jeremy Collins, 33, said he worked at American Worldwide Relief that was headed by Kifah Wael Jayyousi, who is on trial along with alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla and an another man on charges of contributing to Muslim extremist causes worldwide. All three face life in prison if convicted.
“It was just chaos. There was no relief work,” Collins said he learned from his associate. “There seemed to be more fighting than relief work.”
Collins’ testimony focuses on Jayyousi’s years in San Diego, well before Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for 3½ years as an enemy combatant, came on the scene.
Questions about the organization also were raised when the group’s $20,000 satellite telephone was shut down in early 1996 at the request of the Russian government, said Collins, who was the organization’s then-vice president.
Charity's sat phone used by Chechen rebels
The Russians claimed it was being used by Chechen rebels, who are attempting to break free from Russian rule and set up an Islamic state.
“How did a phone get into rebel hands, and get shut off and not reinstated?” Collins recalled thinking at the time.
Along with his relief organization, Jayyousi, 45, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jordan, was head of another group that published a newsletter called the Islam Report. Prosecutors say the American Islamic Group’s newsletter was a propaganda and fundraising tool for radical causes, which Jayyousi has denied.
Every issue included a “theaters of jihad” section recounting armed struggles around the world and usually had editorials written by Jayyousi on subjects such as a trial of blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life prison sentence for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks and assassinate Egypt’s president.
But Jayyousi’s attorney, William Swor, sought to counter the supposed links to violence by asking Collins if it was not also possible to have “jihad of the heart ... jihad with your checkbook, jihad with your pen?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“In all the years that you knew Kifah Jayyousi, he always emphasized doing things legally, right?” Swor asked.
“Correct,” Collins answered.
Prosecution contends defendant recruited Padilla
Prosecutors are attempting to show that an organization that included Jayyousi and co-defendant Adham Amin Hassoun recruited Padilla as part of a global network to support violent Islamic causes.
Jayyousi had never encountered Padilla before they met in court. Padilla was added to the Miami case in late 2005 amid a legal battle over the extent of President Bush’s wartime powers to detain U.S. citizens.
Padilla was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and originally accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a major U.S. city. Those allegations are not part of the Miami indictment.
After an off day Wednesday, testimony is to resume Thursday with an FBI agent expected to testify about how Hassoun, Jayyousi and others used code language in telephone calls to discuss violent Islamic extremism.
For example, “tourism” was code for “fighting jihad” and “getting fresh air” meant going to an area of conflict, according to court papers submitted by the prosecution.
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