Accessibility links

Breaking News

Court Reinstates Charge in US Terrorism Case

A U.S. appeals court in Atlanta has reinstated murder-conspiracy charges in the case against alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla. The decision overturns a lower court's ruling that sought to limit the charges in the case. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports.

The appeals court in Atlanta decided to restore charges of conspiracy to kill, kidnap and maim people in the course of alleged terrorist operations around the world. The charge is one of the most serious in the case against Jose Padilla and two other suspected Islamic terrorists. If convicted, they could face life prison terms.

Last year, a U.S. district judge in Miami said the charge duplicated other counts against Padilla and had it dropped.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said he was pleased at the appeals court decision and looked forward to presenting the government's evidence at trial. A defense lawyer said attorneys were studying the decision.

U.S. officials announced the arrest of Padilla in 2002 and said he was planning to detonate a radiological bomb. The current charges against him do not include the alleged bomb plot, rather they accuse him of becoming a terrorist recruit.

Robert Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University, says it is not a surprise that prosecutors did not include the bomb charges in the civilian trial against Padilla.

"It's not necessary for the government to prove this is all in connection with some specific violent act," said Robert Chesney. "If the government succeeds in showing that the conspirators had agreed to a course of violent conduct, even without being specific about who or when they were going to carry out this attack, or assist others in carrying out some specific attack. It's enough if they have the general intent."

For that reason, Chesney says the latest decision to restore the conspiracy charges could be seen as a victory for the prosecution's case.

Padilla is expected to undergo a psychiatric examination before the trial begins. His lawyers say he is unfit for trial because of alleged mental abuse he suffered during his nearly five years in detention.

For three years, he was considered an enemy combatant in the war against terrorism and he was held in military custody. His lawyers challenged the detenion, saying the Bush adminsitration did not have the power to hold U.S. terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial. In 2005, Padilla was transferred to civilian custody.

Padilla is being charged along with two others - a Palestinian man and a Jordanian-born U.S. citizen - who are accused of providing assistance to international terrorist networks. All three have pleaded not guilty.