Al-Qaida camp discussed in court

Witness says Padilla wanted to learn to defend Muslims

May 19, 2007|By Carol J. Williams | Carol J. Williams,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Miami -- A government witness testified yesterday that terrorism conspirator suspect Jose Padilla attended an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 to learn how to fulfill his religious duty to defend fellow Muslims in foreign conflicts, not to engage in terrorism.

The testimony of Yahya Goba, 30, came in the trial of Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, and two other defendants.

Goba, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent, is serving a 10-year sentence for conspiracy to aid a foreign terrorist group. He had been expected to tell the jury about terrorism tactics espoused by al-Qaida at the Al Farooq camp, where prosecutors allege Padilla had trained a year earlier.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke warned government attorneys against trying to equate what Goba experienced at Al Farooq with what Padilla might have done at the camp, if he was ever there.

She also told the jury that Goba, convicted four years ago as part of the "Lackawanna Six" terrorism support group, has no connection to Padilla or two others on trial on charges of conspiracy to kill, kidnap or maim people abroad, and giving material support to terrorists.

Goba's testimony under questioning by assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier recounted his journey with fellow Muslims from Lackawanna, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y., via London, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan to the camp near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Under the limits Cooke imposed on prosecutors to keep questions relevant to the Padilla case, Goba disclosed only that he spent six weeks at the camp with about 150 other foreigners, mostly Arabs, training in small groups to learn firearms, explosives, warfare tactics, and map- and compass-reading.

The witness, who is serving a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperation in other government cases, said that he had filled out a "mujahedeen data form" identical to the one allegedly signed by Padilla that was introduced as evidence Thursday.

Under cross-examination by Padilla's public defender, Michael Caruso, Goba said he undertook the training because he wanted to help embattled Muslims in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo, as well as Palestinian Muslims - the same aims defense lawyers have ascribed to Padilla and his co-defendants, Kifah Wael Jayyousi and Adham Amin Hassoun.

Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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