Alleged Padilla Terrorist Cell Is Small

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press
Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jose Padilla was recruited into an Islamic terrorist support cell that sought money and fighters for violent struggles abroad, the government says in its indictment. In nine years, however, the group raised less than $100,000 and recruited just a handful of people, including Padilla, according to federal prosecutors.

Padilla, who was held as a suspect in a "dirty bomb" plot for more than three years without charges, apparently was headed at one point in 2000 to Chechnya, where rebels in the mostly Muslim region have been fighting the Russian government, the prosecutors say. Padilla was one of at least two American converts to Islam who agreed to fight overseas, they say.

Those details come from an FBI agent's affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against two other men who have been charged in the same indictment: Kassem Daher, a Lebanese who has lived in Canada, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a Jordanian and U.S. citizen who was a former public school official in Detroit and Washington.

Five people in all have been charged in the alleged conspiracy to kill, kidnap and injure people abroad and provide material support to terrorists. The others purportedly in the cell are Adham Amin Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian who lived in Broward County, Fla., and Mohammed Hesham Youssef, an Egyptian who also lived in Broward County.

Hassoun and Jayyousi have denied the charges. Daher is believed to be in Lebanon, and Youssef is in an Egyptian prison for an unrelated terrorism conviction.

The indictment was unsealed Tuesday in Miami and makes no reference to any specific terrorist act or killing.

Top Justice Department officials have publicly described Padilla as a terrorist trained by al Qaeda who plotted terrorist attacks in the United States. He remained in a Navy brig in South Carolina on Wednesday, awaiting transfer to Justice Department custody and a trip to a federal jail in Miami.

But the alleged plots and al Qaeda ties are not part of the indictment. In fact, despite the description of the group as a North American support cell, its achievements were rather modest, according to the government.

Hassoun, who worked as a computer programmer, wrote checks totaling $53,000 between 1994 and May 2002 to charities and individuals with ties to terrorism, the indictment says. Although the indictment gives no precise figure, it mentions promises and discussions of another $20,000.

The term "cell" was not used in earlier versions of the indictment, including one returned in April that is identical in its charges and scope but refers only to unidentified co-conspirators, who turned out to be Padilla and Daher.

The inclusion of the word "cell" in the latest indictment is inflammatory and inaccurate, Hassoun's attorneys said in interviews Wednesday.

"All of a sudden this word has surfaced to try to describe the appearance of some subversive terrorist activities. It certainly is not factually based," said Ken Swartz, one of the lawyers representing Hassoun.

The money raised was sent to Muslim charities doing humanitarian work in war-torn regions with significant Muslim populations, including Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo, Swartz said.

Some of those organizations, including the Global Relief Foundation, have since been designated by the government as terrorism financiers.

Hassoun and Jayyousi each recruited at least two people, according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent John T. Kavanaugh Jr.

Padilla was recruited by Hassoun and trained at a camp in Afghanistan "in preparation for fighting in Chechnya," Kavanaugh said, calling Padilla by one of his aliases, Ibrahim. Prosecutors have previously said Padilla attended an al Qaeda camp, but the only mention of al Qaeda in the indictment is as part of a list of violent groups.

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