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Orlando Sentinel

Jose Padilla Makes Trouble For 'Tío Pepe'

By Maria Padilla

June 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

What's in a name?

That is my predicament this week after the arrest of Jose Padilla for conspiring to build a "dirty bomb."

Let's get this out of the way: No, we are not related.

I'm sure that Padillas nationwide are feeling the same pain.

My condolences to all of them. And there are many, especially in New Mexico, which has the highest concentration of Padillas in the country, according to the Census Bureau.

A special note of empathy to my brother, whose name happens to be Jose Padilla.

And to my cousin Jose Padilla.

And my nephew Jose Padilla.

Did I mention my uncle Jose Padilla?

I heard about this other Padilla hunted by the FBI from my uncle, who is better known as Tío Pepe.

On a visit to Florida from Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago, Tío was stopped at the San Juan airport and questioned for more than an hour by the FBI about the other Jose Padilla.

My uncle explained to the FBI in his halting English that he didn't know this other fellow and didn't know where he was. Tío apparently convinced the agents and was allowed to board his flight, a little shaken by the experience.

The two couldn't be more different.

The alleged terrorist is 31. My uncle is 81. The other Padilla is a former Chicago gang member. My uncle never has visited Chicago and never belonged to a gang. The other Padilla was born in Brooklyn; my uncle was born in Puerto Rico.

The other Padilla may have been learning how to build a radioactive bomb. My uncle is proud of two things he built in his life: his lovely two-story home that he constructed with his own hands and his beloved gyrocopter, on which he has logged many flying hours.

We laughed as my uncle shared what seemed to be an improbable story as we sat at my kitchen table several weeks ago. For days I scanned the newspapers to see whether the FBI had nabbed the other Padilla.

I can stop checking now.

In fact, piecing it all together, the alleged terrorist already was in custody when Tío Pepe was questioned in San Juan. The other Padilla was apprehended May 8.Which means law enforcement may have been searching for those connected with the other Padilla. In a place like Puerto Rico, and with a name as common as Padilla, you could spend a lifetime interrogating Padillas at the airport.

Maybe one FBI hand did not know what the other FBI hand was doing. It's possible, given the latest revelations about who knew what and when before the Sept. 11 attacks.

I'm skeptical about why officials have publicized the arrest now -- a month later. Is it to deflect attention from the intense scrutiny of recent weeks?

Now information is pouring out: The other Padilla is of Puerto Rican descent, has served time in jail and also goes by the name Abdullah al Muhajir.

The authorities have to do what they have to do, although it will be a difficult case to prosecute -- if that ever happens.

As for Tío Pepe, he has since visited the Panhandle and New York and soon will be on his way to Virginia, the home of another son whose name -- mercifully -- is not Jose Padilla.

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