Jose Padilla gets 17 years on terrorism charges - called "dangerous Al Qaeda operative" Hassoun and Jayoussi also sentenced
January 22, 2008
Jose Padilla Is Sentenced to 17 Years
MIAMI (AP) — Convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla, once accused of plotting with al-Qaida to blow up a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major city, was sentenced Tuesday to 17 years and four months in prison on charges that don't mention those initial allegations.
Prosecutors called Padilla a dangerous al-Qaida operative who deserves life in prison. His lawyers say there is no evidence he ever committed a terrorist act, and that he shouldn't get the maximum sentence in part because he was treated harshly while held as an enemy combatant for 3 1/2 years following his 2002 arrest.
He was initially accused of plotting with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city, but those charges were dropped.
Padilla was added in 2005 to an existing Miami terrorism support case just as the U.S. Supreme Court was considering his challenge to President Bush's decision to hold him in military custody indefinitely without charge.
Padilla and the other two defendants were convicted in August of terrorism conspiracy and material support charges. Jurors found that they took part in a North American support cell for al-Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups around the world.
The other two defendants are 45-year-old Adham Amin Hassoun, a computer programmer of Palestinian descent who allegedly recruited Padilla, and 46-year-old Kifah Wael Jayyousi, an engineer and schools administrator originally from Jordan who provided finances and propaganda for Islamic extremists in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere, according to trial testimony.
Padilla sought a sentence of no more than 10 years. Hassoun asked for 15 years or less and Jayyousi for no more than five years.
The men were convicted after a lengthy trial based on tens of thousands of FBI telephone intercepts collected over an eight-year investigation and a form Padilla filled out in 2000 to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.
Padilla, a former Chicago gang member with a long criminal record, converted to Islam in prison and was recruited by Hassoun while attending a mosque in suburban Sunrise.
Civil liberties groups and Padilla's lawyers called his detention unconstitutional for someone born in this country and contended that he was only charged criminally because the Supreme Court appeared poised to order him either charged or released.
Attorneys for Hassoun and Jayyousi argued that any assistance they provided overseas was for peaceful purposes and to help persecuted Muslims in wartorn countries. But FBI agents testified that their charitable work was a cover for violent jihad, which they frequently discussed in code using words such as "tourism" and "football." http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hPjpHT_j6DX3dhRrakgSSWQseYcAD8UB218G0
Padilla gets 17 years, 4 months
Tue, Jan. 22, 2008
Padilla's mentor, Adham Amin Hassoun, a Palestinian who had met him at a Fort Lauderdale mosque in the 1990s, and Hassoun's colleague, Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a U.S. citizen of Jordanian descent, were sentenced to 16 years and nine months, and 12 years and 8 months, respectively.
Padilla was expected to get up to life in prison, while the two other defendants also were expected to receive lengthier prison sentences.
"I do find that the conditions [for Padilla as an enemy combatant] were so harsh that they warrant consideration," Cooke told a crowded courtroom of attorneys, family members and media.
Federal prosecutors said they would appeal the judge's decision on sentencing for the defendants.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will decide where the three men, currently in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Miami , will serve their terms.
The defendants were convicted by a 12-member federal jury in Miami last August on three terror-related charges. The most serious offense: conspiring to commit murder while providing material support such as money, recruits and equipment for "violent jihad" in Europe, the Middle East and Asia .
While their defense lawyers tried to portray the men as humanitarians coming to the aid of persecuted Muslims in places like Bosnia , Chechnya and Lebanon , prosecutors convinced jurors their real aim was to install strict Islamic governments by any means necessary.
Last week, Padilla's mother, Estela Ortega-Lebron, urged the judge to show mercy for her son, saying, "He is not a monster; he's a human being." Padilla himself said nothing to the judge, while Hassoun and Jayyousi asserted their only goal was to help embattled Muslims around the world -- not to kill anyone.
Cooke, after an uncommon sentencing proceeding that spanned two weeks, cited the jury's conclusions before imposing a "terrorism enhancement" that added decades to their punishment. She adopted sentencing guidelines from 30 years to life for each defendant, but she had the authority to go below that range. Prosecutors sought life imprisonment for each defendant; defense attorneys pushed for five- to 15-year terms.
Although the Justice Department's terrorism case against Padilla and the co-defendants seemed like just another "material-support" conspiracy case, it was anything but. Why? Padilla, born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago , brought an extraordinary amount of baggage to the case -- though much of it was never used by prosecutors at trial because of national security reasons.
Soon after his arrest by FBI agents in Chicago in May 2002, Padilla was designated by President Bush as an "enemy combatant."
The former gang member, who converted to Islam in his early 20s as he tried to straighten out his life in South Florida , drew worldwide attention because the Defense Department held him in a military brig for more than three years without charging him. The Bush administration fought against his bid to be freed, an appeal that was almost heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Initially, Bush officials accused him of plotting with senior al Qaeda operatives -- including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- to carry out a "dirty-bomb" attack on U.S. soil. But the indictment returned by a South Florida grand jury in November 2005 never charged Padilla with that offense.
Instead, the government's case zeroed in on Padilla's role in the South Florida-based terrorism network headed by Hassoun. He recruited Padilla to travel to Egypt in September 1998, ostensibly to study Arabic and the Islamic religion. But two years later, Padilla enrolled in al Qaeda's military-style training camp in Afghanistan .
Before trial, Padilla's lawyers tried to introduce evidence that their client was tortured in military custody, in the hope of getting him removed from the indictment. Once that failed, they tried to distance him from his mentor, Hassoun, to no avail.
Prosecutors introduced compelling evidence: Hassoun groomed Padilla to go to the Middle East and the recruit eventually applied to train as a Mujahedin in Afghanistan . His application, using the Muslim name "Abu Abdallah al Muhajir," was dated July 24, 2000. It was recovered by the CIA from an alleged al Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan . His fingerprints were on the front and back of the five-page form in Arabic, a government expert testified.
Prosecutors presented no direct evidence at trial that placed Padilla at the military-style camp in Afghanistan , but during the sentencing phase they unveiled an alleged al Qaeda graduation list with his Muslim name on it. Also, he was heard on only seven of 126 FBI-recorded phone calls entered into evidence at trial.
Two jurors told The Miami Herald that the jury struggled to convict Padilla because the panel initially viewed him as a bit player in the scheme to aid Islamic extremists, unlike Hassoun, 45, and Jayyousi, 46. They took a harsh view of Hassoun, a computer programmer from Lebanon , saying he was "arrogant" in his radical Islamic advocacy. They viewed Jayyousi, a public school administrator with a doctorate in engineering who most recently worked in Detroit , as an intellectual who crossed the line in his support of Muslims.
The jurors ultimately voted to convict Padilla along with the others, citing a specific phone call he had with Hassoun, one year before the recruit left for the Middle East . To find Padilla guilty, the jurors were instructed by the judge that they had to determine he joined the terrorism conspiracy in the United States before leaving the country.
FBI agents had a recording of the conversation, made at 9:22 p.m. on July 28, 1997, because they had a wiretap of Hassoun's home phone in Sunrise .
In the call, Padilla spoke to Hassoun about his readiness to join a jihad overseas. And that sealed his fate.
Factbox- Facts about Qaeda recruit Jose Padilla
Jan 22 (Reuters) - Jose Padilla, a Chicago gang member once accused by the Bush administration of plotting a radioactive bomb attack, was sentenced by a U.S. court on Tuesday to 17 years and four months in prison for supporting terrorism.
Here are some facts about Padilla:
* A U.S. jury in Miami on Aug. 16, 2007, convicted Padilla on all three charges in a case that has been a centerpiece of Bush administration efforts to battle terrorism. Jurors found Padilla guilty of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim persons abroad, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, and providing material support for terrorism.
* Padilla faced a possible life prison term, as did two co-defendants convicted alongside him.
* Padilla, 37, was held without charge in a military prison for 3 1/2 years by order of President George W. Bush before being added to the terrorism-support case against co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi.
* Padilla's lawyers argued that years of extreme isolation and interrogation by the U.S. military had left him too mentally impaired to help his lawyers defend him in court. But a U.S. judge ruled Padilla was mentally competent to stand trial, saying, "This defendant clearly has the capacity to assist his attorneys."
* Padilla has been in federal custody since May 2002, when he was arrested in Chicago on his return from Egypt.
* Bush ordered Padilla held in a military prison and the administration accused him of plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States. Padilla was never charged with that. While a challenge to Bush's authority to hold him without charge was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, Padilla was indicted in Florida and transferred to civilian custody last year.
* Prosecutors said Hassoun recruited Padilla at a Florida mosque and sent him to an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan to train as a killer. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier called Padilla their "star recruit." (Writing by Paul Grant, Washington Editorial Reference Unit) http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN22530850