By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) – Osama bin Laden’s face and words loomed over the U.S. terrorism trial of former “dirty bomber” suspect Jose Padilla on Tuesday as jurors were shown a 10-year-old videotaped interview of the al Qaeda leader.
Jurors were attentive but poker-faced as they watched the CNN interview on a giant screen in a Miami courtroom. Padilla and two co-defendants are on trial on charges of conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas and of providing material support for terrorism.
The three defendants are not accused of having any direct connection to bin Laden, and defense lawyers objected vigorously and called the tape inflammatory and irrelevant.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke told jurors to ignore it when deciding Padilla’s fate since there was no evidence he saw or discussed the interview. She said jurors could consider it as proof of the other defendants’ state of mind but reminded them that the charges had nothing to do with September 11.
In the 1997 interview, long before the September 11 attacks made him one of the world’s most-hunted men, a gun rests at bin Laden’s side as he praises U.S. deaths in Saudi Arabia and Somalia and urges that more U.S. troops be killed.
Prosecutors played the tape as a prelude to airing secretly recorded telephone conversations in which defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi chuckle as they discuss the interview.
Hassoun is heard saying of bin Laden, “He doesn’t let the dog in the White House sleep at night.”
Jayyousi called the interview “very powerful” and notes with seeming approval that bin Laden condemned the U.S. treatment of “blind sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who is imprisoned for life in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other terrorist acts.
But Jayyousi later says, “It was something scary, man … The interview was strange.”
Prosecutors played the tape and the phone conversations as evidence that Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian, and Jayyousi, a Jordanian-born U.S. citizen, supported violent Islamist groups.
Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 2002, declared an “enemy combatant” by President George W. Bush and held without charge in a military jail for 3-1/2 years.
The government said he was plotting to set off a radiological “dirty bomb” in the United States but no mention of that allegation was made when he was transferred into the civilian justice system and added to the Miami case.
The defendants are accused of running a support cell that provided money and recruits for Islamist militants in Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan and elsewhere beginning in the mid-1990s.
The charges allege Hassoun recruited Padilla, a convert to Islam, at a south Florida mosque and sent him to Egypt and Afghanistan to learn Arabic and train with al Qaeda.
All three defendants face life in prison if convicted. The trial, now in the sixth week of testimony, is expected to last through August.
Defense lawyers said Padilla went to the Middle East to study Arabic and become an Islamic cleric. They said the other two were involved in charities that provided innocent aid to Muslims in conflict zones but did not advocate violence.