A convicted terrorist testified Friday that he prepared for jihad at an al-Qaida training camp that prosecutors said was attended by Jose Padilla, one of three men being tried on charges of supporting Islamic extremists.
Yahya Goba, a 30-year-old Yemen American, said in federal court that he filled out a "mujahedeen data form" identical to the one allegedly completed by Padilla for the remote al-Farooq camp outside Kandahar, Afghanistan.
While at the camp in summer 2001, Goba said, he learned about war tactics, plastic explosives and weapons such as AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and handguns. After the six-week course, Goba said he was told to provide his U.S. address and contact information and to destroy his passport to hide his travel movements, which he did by putting it in a washing machine.
Goba said he and several associates from Lackawanna, N.Y., went to the camps to get ready for a possible mission related to jihad, or holy war. Goba eventually was convicted of terrorism support, and the group became known as the "Lackawanna Six."
"If anytime called upon to perform jihad, I had the proper training," said Goba.
Prosecutors say Goba's testimony is critical because it describes what went on at the al-Farooq camp, which the government claims Padilla, held for 3 1/2 years as an enemy combatant, attended in summer 2000. It also links the defendants to the al-Qaida terrorist group, even if indirectly.
"Is it possible to just show up at one of the camps?" asked prosecutor Brian Frazier.
"No," Goba replied.
"You had someone to help you — someone known and trusted by al-Qaida," Frazier continued.
"Yes," Goba said.
But Goba said under questioning by defense lawyers that his intent was only to prepare to defend Muslims in areas where they were oppressed and persecuted, not to commit murder or other crimes. He said he never became a member of al-Qaida.
"Are you now, or have you ever been, a terrorist?" Padilla attorney Michael Caruso asked.
"No," Goba replied.
Goba has pleaded guilty along with five other Lackawanna-area men to terrorism support charges. He said it was clear that al-Qaida ran the training camp. A guesthouse where recruits were brought featured copies of a book by Osama bin Laden, he said, and speeches were given by al-Qaida leaders.
On the "mujahedeen" form, Goba said he hid his U.S. citizenship by describing himself as a Yemeni because he was told "it wouldn't be safe to put down that I was from America." All the recruits, he said, used aliases rather than real names.
"I was told not to reveal my true identity," Goba said.
Prosecutors say Padilla's form is under the nickname Abu Abdallah Al Muhajir.
Witness hopes to cut prison time
Goba has testified in two other federal terror-related trials, in Idaho and New York, and acknowledged Friday that he hopes to cut some time off his 10-year prison sentence through this cooperation.
Lawyers for Padilla and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi argued that Goba's testimony shouldn't be allowed in their trial because he has little or no connection with them.
"What Goba did is not relevant to anything in this case. Period," said Jayyousi lawyer William Swor.
Prosecutor Brian Frazier, however, said testimony shows "the intent of the person filling out this (al-Qaida) form" and that without Goba, the government's "knees are going to be cut out from under us" in terms of proving their case.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke allowed Goba to testify, although not about how he was recruited, and she specifically told jurors not to infer that Padilla or his co-defendants were somehow involved with Goba. Cooke also refused to let jurors see a video of new recruits including Goba with bin Laden at the camp.
Padilla, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member, was arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare International Airport on suspicion that he plotted to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city, but those charges are not part of the Miami case.
He was added to the existing Miami case in November 2005 during a legal battle over the president's wartime detention powers. All three defendants face life in prison if convicted.