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At Padilla terror trial, a witness's surprise effect

A witness for the US government has painted a less-than-menacing picture of a terrorist training camp.

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Federal prosecutors had high hopes that Yahya Goba would emerge as a key witness in the trial of suspected Al Qaeda recruit Jose Padilla.

Now they are hoping he doesn't.

When Mr. Goba was arrested in September 2002, he was portrayed as America's worst nightmare. Government officials said he was a member of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell who was recruited for jihad, went to Afghanistan to train in the use of weapons and explosives, and returned to Lackawanna, N.Y., to quietly await further instructions from Osama bin Laden.

It was the same path that prosecutors say was followed by Mr. Padilla. Goba's detailed telling of his story was seen by federal prosecutors as a winning trial strategy, an opportunity to show the jury firsthand how a Muslim-American could wind up in a terrorist training camp run by Al Qaeda.

But the picture of Goba that is emerging from the witness stand at Padilla's trial is less menacing than federal prosecutors had hoped. Rather than boosting the government's case, his testimony appears to be helping Padilla make his.

Goba began his testimony on Friday and is expected to continue on the witness stand Monday morning.

He is appearing at the trial under a plea agreement and is seeking to have the government reduce his 10-year prison sentence. Goba, who is married with a 4-year-old daughter, has a strong additional incentive to cooperate in every way with the government. He wants to avoid being designated an enemy combatant and diverted out of the criminal justice system into indefinite military detention.

Padilla was held and interrogated for three years and eight months in military custody as an enemy combatant before being named in the current criminal case.

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