August 21, 2006

US Drops One Charge in Padilla Terrorism Case

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - A judge threw out a murder-conspiracy charge against former "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla on Monday on grounds that it duplicated other charges still pending against the alleged al Qaeda operative.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke dismissed a charge that Padilla and two co-defendants conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country.

The government has accused Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in May 2002, of plotting to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb." He was held in a military brig as an "enemy combatant" for 3-1/2 years without charges before being transferred to a federal lock-up in Miami in January.

The judge said the murder-conspiracy charge was based on the same actions alleged in another conspiracy charge against the defendants and thus violated the constitutional guarantee against "double jeopardy," or trying someone twice for the same offense.

"There can be no question that the government has charged a single conspiracy offense multiple times, in separate counts," the judge wrote.

Padilla is scheduled to go to trial in January on two remaining charges, conspiracy and aiding terrorists abroad.

The Bush administration changed course last year, dropped the enemy combatant designation and charged Padilla with being part of a North American support cell for global Islamic extremism.

The charges against Padilla, a convert to Islam whom prosecutors said attended an al Qaeda training camp, were added to an existing case against four other men previously charged with being part of a violent terrorist support cell in Florida.

Two of them, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, are in custody and are scheduled to be tried with Padilla, although their attorneys have asked for separate trials.

If convicted on all the charges, they could face life in prison.