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Without a plot, is Padilla guilty?

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Assistant US Attorney Brian Frazier says the government has no obligation to identify specific victims and specific plots. "The agreement is what is important," he says.

Case could expand prosecutors' scope

The issue is significant in the Bush administration's war on terror because if upheld in the courts the government's approach would permit proactive prosecutions of individuals long before they take any affirmative step toward carrying out a specific act of terror against a particular target.

Individuals who are perceived to be sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or a version of Islam viewed as too militant could be prosecuted if the government believes they are on the road to carrying out "violent jihad."

Such a government posture would criminalize a portion of Muslim political discourse in the US and discourage legitimate humanitarian fundraising among American Muslims.

Mr. Frazier rejects defense complaints that the government's standard is vague. "The narrative is fairly clear that Padilla was recruited to go overseas to participate in jihad," he says. "This is not the Boy Scouts; it is a terrorist organization."

Prosecutors say that Padilla and the two other men were part of a secret Al Qaeda support cell set up to facilitate a worldwide holy war.

To prove their case, they presented scores of secretly recorded telephone conversations in which the three men allegedly use coded language while discussing efforts to send money, equipment, and individuals to various Muslim hot spots in the late 1990s.

The areas included regions where Muslim civilians were facing massacres and other attacks, such as Kosovo, Bosnia, and Chechnya. Defense lawyers say their clients were seeking to protect and help Muslim victims, rather than wage a terror-driven jihad.

Prosecutors say the cell members spoke in code during telephone calls to throw US and other intelligence agents off their trail. In one instance, agents overheard a discussion of the purchase of $3,500 worth of "zucchini" in Lebanon. A government expert testified that zucchini was a code word for a type of munition.

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