- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

MIAMI (AP) — Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was held for more than three years as an “enemy combatant,” pleaded not guilty yesterday to criminal charges he was part of a secret network that supported Muslim terrorists.

The plea, followed by a judge’s refusal to set bail, came one week after Padilla was transferred from military to civilian custody. His trial was set for Sept. 9.

Defense attorney Michael Caruso entered a plea on behalf of his client of “absolutely not guilty.”

In denying bail, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber sided with prosecutors who said Padilla likely would flee and that the charges — including accusations that he attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan — made him dangerous.

“How much more dangerous can someone be than someone who attended a terrorist training camp?” prosecutor Stephanie Pell asked.

Padilla, 35, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in May 2002 and held at a military brig without criminal charges, initially on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the United States.

His case raised questions about whether U.S. citizens detained on American soil could be held without trial in the name of the war on terrorism.

Before the Supreme Court could decide whether to take up Padilla’s case, the government presented the case to a civilian grand jury, which indicted him in November. The charges do not involve the “dirty bomb” accusations or claims that he plotted to blow up U.S. apartment buildings.

Last week, the high court approved Padilla’s transfer to civilian custody in Miami, overruling a lower court that suggested the administration changed tactics to avert a Supreme Court ruling. The justices were scheduled to meet today to discuss whether to take up the case, according to attorneys on both sides.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert, could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of conspiring to murder U.S. nationals and providing material support to terrorists.

Mr. Caruso questioned the strength of the government’s case. He said there is insufficient proof to the government’s claim that Padilla actually filled out an application to attend an al Qaeda camp.

Padilla, who lived for a time in Broward County in the 1990s, is charged in the Florida case along with four others.

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