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Suspected al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, held for two years without charge on suspicion of plotting a “dirty bomb” attack, is cooperating with the government and may testify in a separate terror case, sources say. Last week, the Justice Department charged two South Florida men in a terrorism conspiracy case, accusing them, among other things, of recruiting Padilla to train as a terrorist agent. The 10-count indictment charges Adham Amin Hassoun, a South Florida computer programmer and friend of Padilla’s, and Mohamed Hesham Youssef, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Egypt, with conspiring to fund terrorist organizations and recruit individuals to engage in terrorist acts. Padilla was not named in the indictment, which was handed up by a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida. Instead, say two Justice Department officials, Padilla was designated as Unindicted Co-conspirator No. 2. At a Justice Department press conference Sept. 16, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused, however, to identify Padilla as the alleged co-conspirator. Ashcroft would only confirm that the individual is a U.S. citizen and that he returned to the United States from the Middle East in May 2002. Padilla, an American citizen, was arrested May 8, 2002, at O’Hare International Airport. DOJ officials decline to comment on the implications of Padilla’s involvement in the conspiracy case against Hassoun and Youssef. But by drawing Padilla into an ongoing criminal case, the administration could be setting the stage to end his more than two-year detention by the U.S. military as an enemy combatant, either by charging him in federal court or striking a plea bargain. A source close to the South Florida case says Padilla was not charged because he has entered into a deal to cooperate with the Justice Department. He was not identified by name in the indictment because he is now a witness, the source says. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney Fred Haddad, who represents Hassoun, said last week he believes the government intends to use Padilla as a witness against his client. “Based upon my understanding of the case, I’m sure it’s Padilla,” Haddad said. “The way the government drafts this [indictment], this guy is a witness. They don’t have unidentified co-conspirators unless they are going to be witnesses or they’re out of reach in another country.” Barry Boss, a partner at D.C.’s Cozen O’Connor and a former assistant federal public defender, says that, in general, unindicted co-conspirators raise a “red flag” for defense lawyers because they often turn up as cooperating witnesses. Other defense lawyers suggest that including Padilla in the indictment might be a tactic to justify his continued detention without charges. But Donna Newman, Padilla’s New York lawyer who has filed a constitutional challenge to his detention in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina, says she hasn’t been contacted by the government about Padilla’s cooperation in the case. “I don’t know where that attorney gets his information,” she says, referring to Haddad. “What charge is [Padilla] cooperating on? What indictment? You’re asking me normal questions, but there’s no normalcy in this case.” A FLORIDA CONNECTION The Supreme Court’s three recent terror-related rulings complicate Padilla’s case for the U.S. government. Padilla’s challenge to his military detention was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, sending the case back for further proceedings. However, rulings in the related cases of U.S. citizen Yaser Esam Hamdi and detainees held at Guant�namo Bay, Cuba, which called for some sort of due process extended to military detainees, suggest that the government is on shaky ground if it continues to hold Padilla without charges. Last week, a lawyer for Hamdi, Virginia Federal Public Defender Frank Dunham Jr., said his client was close to a deal with the government in which Hamdi would be freed and returned to Saudi Arabia. Like Padilla, Hamdi was held as an enemy combatant. The Miami Daily Business Review first reported in July that the Justice Department was considering charging Padilla in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. But any charges against Padilla are unlikely to include the most serious allegations against him: that he plotted to detonate a nuclear device in a U.S. city or blow up apartment buildings. Last week’s indictment instead places Padilla, Hassoun, and Youssef at the nexus of a South Florida terror connection that remains the focus of an intensive investigation aimed at averting more large-scale attacks. Topping the list of alleged al Qaeda sympathizers that the United States is actively hunting: Adnan G. El Shukrijuma, a pilot and former Miramar, Fla., resident known to both Padilla and Hassoun. Padilla, who once worked at a Taco Bell in Davie, Fla., and worshipped with Hassoun at the Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Fort Lauderdale, has been jailed without charge following his May 2002 arrest in Chicago. He was detained on a material witness warrant issued by a Manhattan federal grand jury investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon. President George W. Bush later declared Padilla an enemy combatant and ordered him held in military custody for allegedly plot-ting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Hassoun, a resident of Sunrise, Fla., is accused in the indictment of recruiting Youssef and an unidentified co-conspirator, presumably Padilla, to fight in holy wars overseas. The government claims Hassoun participated in “coded conversations” about fighting in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Somalia. From 1994 to 2001, the indictment says, Hassoun wrote checks to various conspirators and now-defunct Muslim charities, including the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, to be used to support “violent jihad.” Hassoun, a computer programmer first indicted earlier this year, also faces charges of illegal gun possession, lying, and obstruction of justice involving his alleged efforts on behalf of “global jihad.” Hassoun faces upward of 50 years in prison if convicted and is being held without bond at a federal detention facility in Miami. More than 20,000 pages of documents and audiotapes obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act have been declassified and released to Hassoun’s defense team to comply with discovery requirements. A protective order, however, has barred access by the public. Youssef is in custody in Egypt, where he is serving a sentence for “other terrorist activities” that were not described during the Sept. 16 Justice Department press conference. Ashcroft said the government will seek Youssef’s extradition. THE OTHER CONSPIRATORS Born in Lebanon but claiming Palestinian citizenship, Hassoun was arrested a month after Padilla by agents of the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force for overstaying his 1990 nonimmigrant student visa. While it’s now apparent that Hassoun was being watched for years, he became a focus of intense federal scrutiny because of his ties to both Padilla and a Chicago-based Muslim charity, the Benevolence International Foundation. Enaam M. Arnaout, BIF’s leader in the United States and a known associate of Osama bin Laden, has since pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy involving donations to al Qaeda and to Muslim rebels in Bosnia and Chechnya. Hassoun was BIF’s registered agent in Florida in 1993, state corporate records show. The United States sought to deport Hassoun, a married father of three young, south Florida sons. In December 2002, at a secret hearing, U.S. Immigration Judge Neale Foster of Miami ordered Hassoun deported after finding him to be a “terrorist” who “had contact” with bin Laden. Hassoun is appealing Foster’s order before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. The first criminal charge, for the illegal possession of a handgun, was brought against Hassoun last January. In March, seven counts of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice were added. “I have nothing to hide,” Hassoun said in an interview. Hassoun acknowledged associations with people and organizations linked to terrorism. For example, in a jail-house interview in June, he said he’d helped raise cash from the local Muslim community to help both Padilla and Youssef resettle in the Middle East. When Padilla flew in 1998 from Miami to Cairo, where he spent the next 18 months, Hassoun helped raise money for Padilla’s airline ticket and for his settlement in Egypt. According to the government, Padilla ultimately traveled to Afghanistan in 2000. There, by his own admission, Padilla received training at an al Qaeda camp and discussed dirty bombs and blowing up apartment houses with the likes of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, said to be the al Qaeda mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Deputy Attorney General James Comey detailed Padilla’s alleged account of his activities at a June 1 press conference. Comey told reporters the government had little chance of using the information against Padilla in a criminal case “because we deprived him of access to his counsel and questioned him in the absence of counsel.” “We could care less about a criminal case when right before us is the need to protect American citizens and to save lives,” Comey said. “We’ll figure out down the road what we do with Jose Padilla.” By last week, the government had made him a confidential informant. Dan Christensen is a staff writer with the Daily Business Review in Miami.

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