Defense lawyers argue that Jose Padilla and co-defendants had minimal terror roles

By Curt Anderson

MIAMI – Attorneys for Jose Padilla and two other men convicted last summer of terrorism and conspiracy argue that even if their clients were involved in a global Islamic extremist movement, they were minor figures, not leaders.

The arguments were made Wednesday, the second day of the trio’s sentencing hearing. One key legal point is whether any of the three had supervisory roles in the conspiracy.

With several witnesses scheduled to testify and legal arguments still to be made, the judge said Wednesday it was clear the hearing would likely continue into next week.

Padilla, a 37-year-old U.S. citizen, was held for more than three years as an enemy combatant following his May 2002 arrest in Chicago on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the United States. Those allegations were dropped and Padilla was added in 2005 to an existing Miami terrorism support case.

He and co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi were convicted of being part of a North American support cell for al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups.

Prosecutors say the three defendants were part of a conspiracy involving armed conflicts over decades in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, Somalia and Chechnya and involving tens of thousands of people. Hassoun was depicted as a recruiter, Jayyousi as a financier and propagandist and Padilla as a recruit for al-Qaida.

“The charged conspiracy is exceedingly broad,” said Padilla attorney Michael Caruso. “You have to concede that Mr. Padilla played a minimal role.”

But prosecutor Russell Killinger said Padilla is “a trained al-Qaida killer” who was recruited to attend an al-Qaida training camp. He called Padilla’s bid for a lenient sentence “astonishing.”

“He’s an instrument of the scheme itself,” Killinger said.

Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, told U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke that a life sentence is unwarranted because there was scant proof at trial that Hassoun recruited Padilla and others for violent jihad overseas or that he had authority over others.

“I can’t imagine a more minor role than someone in my client’s position,” Baker said. “They talked, and that’s about all they did.”

Hassoun met Padilla at a mosque and helped sponsor his decision to move to Egypt in 1998. Padilla eventually made his way to Afghanistan, where in 2000 he filled out a form introduced at trial to attend an al-Qaida terrorist training camp.

Baker, however, said the evidence showed only that Hassoun was interested in Padilla pursuing Islamic and Arabic studies in Egypt and that he wasn’t behind Padilla’s travels to Afghanistan.

Jayyousi’s attorney, William Swor, argued similarly that evidence didn’t show Jayyousi was a supervisor in a criminal conspiracy, with his main management decisions involving only charitable relief organizations for oppressed Muslims around the world.

“The fact that someone has leadership qualities does not make him a leader,” Swor said.