- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

An attorney for al Qaeda terror suspect Abdullah al Muhajir, a U.S. citizen captured last month by the FBI reportedly in a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb," told a federal judge yesterday the case against her client was weak and he should be released.

Donna Newman argued before U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey in New York there was insufficient evidence to indict al Muhajir, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native previously known as Jose Padilla, and his continued confinement by the U.S. military was unconstitutional.

"Based on recent information, there no longer exists probable cause to detain Padilla for any reason," Ms. Newman said in a writ of habeas corpus. "The evidence linking Padilla to the alleged 'dirty bomb' plot is weak at best. There is insufficient evidence for the government to obtain an indictment against Padilla."

The court-appointed attorney, during an afternoon hearing, said al Muhajir had not been charged with a crime and a federal grand jury had not been presented any evidence of her client's involvement in a conspiracy to construct and detonate a radiological dispersion device, or dirty bomb.

However, traveling yesterday in Switzerland, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "It is clear that he was trained in explosive devices after time in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that he had done research in radiological and explosive devices and contamination," although Mr. Ashcroft declined to elaborate.

Judge Mukasey gave the government until June 21 to file a motion to dismiss the writ or transfer it to another jurisdiction.

Al Muhajir, 31, was detained May 8 after his arrival at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the conspiracy had not extended past the planning stages, although al Muhajir reportedly was carrying plans for an attack and $10,000 in cash when he was taken into custody.

Authorities said al Muhajir had returned to the United States to begin reconnaissance for a bombing site and seek a source for the radioactive material for a dirty bomb. They said he had been under surveillance by the FBI as he traveled among Pakistan, Egypt and Switzerland. He was arrested in Chicago after a flight from Zurich and Karachi, Pakistan.

Mr. Ashcroft said in announcing the arrest that authorities had determined from "multiple, independent and corroborating sources" that al Muhajir was closely associated with al Qaeda and that, as an operative for Osama bin Laden's terrorist group, he "was involved in planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States."

Al Muhajir and an unidentified associate are believed to have researched the construction and detonation of dirty bombs in Lahore, Pakistan, authorities said. They said that in addition to the nation's capital as a potential site, the scheme had targeted hotels and gas stations.

The unnamed associate reportedly is being held in a foreign country, where he is being questioned. His name and nationality had not been made public, and officials at the Justice Department were unavailable last night for comment.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official confirmed media reports, first made by Fox News on Monday, that a man identified as Benjamin Ahmed Mohammed was being held and questioned by FBI agents for his connection to al Muhajir. The official did not know Mr. Mohammed's nationality.

Al Muhajir, who was not at yesterday's court hearing, was transferred to Defense Department custody Sunday after he was ruled "an enemy combatant." He is being held at the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C.

He had been held by the Justice Department as a material witness since his May 8 detention and had been subpoenaed as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the terrorist attacks of September 11. The department later withdrew the subpoena and al Mahajir's material witness status when he was transferred to military custody.

During yesterday's hearing, Ms. Newman argued that her client had been designated an "enemy combatant" even though Congress had not declared war. She said existing guidelines for military tribunals did not apply to U.S. citizens and that al Muhajir had not been charged by a military court with a crime.

She also told the court she had not been allowed to speak with her client since his transfer Sunday to South Carolina.

Law enforcement authorities said al Muhajir met frequently with top al Qaeda leaders in the weeks after September 11 to discuss further U.S. attacks. They said he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan several times after the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, meeting with Abu Zubaydah, a top lieutenant to bin Laden.

Those meetings, they said, began in December 2001 and continued through March.

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