Al-Qaida took center stage Monday in the Jose Padilla terrorism support trial as a prosecution expert witness described the origins of the organization led by Osama bin Laden and blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Making the link between the terrorist group and Padilla and his two co-defendants is key if prosecutors are to prove charges of providing material support and conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.
The government’s star expert is Rohan Gunaratna, author of books about al-Qaida and a scholar at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore. Gunaratna’s testimony Monday was aimed in part to lay groundwork for prosecutors to show jurors a 1997 television interview with bin Laden.
Jurors will likely be shown an edited version of that bin Laden interview later this week. It bears directly on the trial because defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were overheard discussing the program on FBI wiretaps.
‘The use of force’
A key allegation against Padilla, a 36-year-old Muslim convert, is that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp. Padilla was accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the U.S. when he was arrested in 2002, but those allegations are not part of the Miami trial.
Gunaratna described how al-Qaida developed from the 1980s battle between Muslim fighters and invading Soviets in Afghanistan, with bin Laden later adapting the organization to support Islamic jihad causes around the world. The group's philosophy, Gunaratna said, was based on the writing and teaching of Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of bin Laden and leader of the Islamic jihad movement.
Azzam, Gunaratna said, “made it very clear that jihad meant violence to achieve these political goals. He said it is to fight to create Islamic states wherever Muslims live — the use of force.”
One of the main defenses of Padilla and his co-defendants is that they were supporting charitable and humanitarian efforts for oppressed Muslims and that their use of the word “jihad” did not necessarily mean violence.
Code for jihad conflict
Although much of the case involves conflicts in places such as Chechnya, Bosnia and Somalia, prosecutors have concentrated on the link to al-Qaida, although its responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks is mentioned only in passing.
Earlier Monday, lead FBI investigator John Kavanaugh completed three weeks of testimony focused on the thousands of wiretap intercepts collected since 1994 in the case. Kavanaugh explained repeatedly how Hassoun and Jayyousi used a code in telephone calls because they suspected government surveillance, with words such as “tourism” and “smelling fresh air” actually meaning jihad conflict.
On Monday, he also said Padilla likely spoke with Hassoun on many more occasions than the seven substantive telephone intercepts on which his voice appears. They met at a mosque in Florida, Kavanaugh said, and also used letters and human couriers to communicate.