Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A federal grand jury in Miami has returned an 11-count indictment accusing “dirty bomb” suspect Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, and four others with conspiracy to murder U.S. civilians as members of a North American terrorist cell.

The indictment, handed up Thursday in U.S. District Court in Miami and unsealed yesterday, also names as part of the conspiracy for the first time a Canadian national, Kassem Daher, who is thought to be overseas, and three others, Adham Hassoun, Mohamed Youssef and Kifah Jayyousi, who have been named in other terrorism-related crimes.

Federal prosecutors said that Padilla, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, was directed by al Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef in 2001 to take part in “an operation to blow up apartment buildings in the United States with natural gas” and that Padilla accepted the task.

Padilla and the others, according to the indictment, were members of a North American support cell designed to send money, physical assets and mujahedeen recruits to overseas jihad conflicts. The indictment said the cell operated from many U.S. and Canadian cities and supported and coordinated with other support networks and mujahedeen groups.

“The indictment of Jose Padilla and his associates in an alleged North American terrorist support cell demonstrates that we will use every tool at our disposal in vigorously fighting the war on terrorism,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

“Through the use of such tools, including vital provisions of the USA Patriot Act, we are able to bring criminal prosecutions that strike at the heart of terrorist activities,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Padilla has been held as an enemy combatant since he was arrested by FBI agents on a material-witness warrant in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a flight from Pakistan. At the time of his arrest, the Justice Department said he was carrying $10,000, which he had received from his al Qaeda handlers.

The indictment said Youssef, a suspected al Qaeda recruit, reported in September 2000 that Padilla was “supposed to be at Usama’s,” a reference to al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and then later reported that Padilla had “entered into the area of Usama.”

It said other co-conspirators reported Padilla being in Afghanistan in October 2000.

According to the indictment, Padilla traveled overseas to receive jihad training and to fight jihad, or holy war, which included killings, kidnappings and maimings, between October 1993 and November 2001.

In September, a federal appeals court panel said President Bush had the authority to indefinitely detain Padilla, a U.S. citizen, as an enemy combatant, reversing a lower court order that the government either charge or release him.

In March, U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd in Spartanburg, S.C., ruled the U.S. government could not hold Padilla as an enemy combatant without charging him with a crime, calling the case a “law-enforcement matter, not a military matter.”

Judge Floyd gave the government 45 days to either charge or release Padilla — a ruling that was challenged by the Justice Department, which described Padilla as “a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States.”

Charging documents filed by the Pentagon on Nov. 7 against Binyam Ahmed Muhammad, being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lists Padilla as an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme to kill U.S. civilians.

The documents said that Muhammad and Padilla reviewed instructions on a computer at an al Qaeda guesthouse in Lahore, Pakistan, on how to make an improvised dirty bomb and that he and Padilla later met with bin Laden associate Abu Zubaydah in private to discuss plans for attacks against the United States.

While in Lahore, the documents said Muhammad, Padilla and Zubaydah also discussed plans to blow up gas tankers and spray people with cyanide in nightclubs.

The documents said Padilla was given $10,000 in April 2002 to get to the United States to meet with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Although he was detained at passport control at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, Padilla was released the next morning and continued on to Chicago, the documents said.

If convicted, Padilla and the others face life in prison.

• Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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