WASHINGTON -- The government arrested a U.S. citizen with an alleged al-Qaida connection and suspected of plotting to build and detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb in an attack in this country, possibly against Washington.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Abdullah Al Mujahir, also known as Jose Padilla, was in the custody of the U.S. military and was being treated as an enemy combatant. This suggests plans for the first military tribunal of an alleged terrorist since the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon were struck Sept. 11 by hijacked commercial airliners.
The attorney general, who was in Moscow on other business, made the announcement through a television hookup.
Ashcroft said that Mujahir was arrested May 8 as he flew from Pakistan into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
"We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb," he said, adding that the government's suspicions about Mujahir's plans came from "multiple, independent, corroborating sources."
A senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity said Mujahir was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan to wire explosives and to research radioactive dispersal devices. He was not believed to have had a bomb at the time of his apprehension.
"We don't believe it went beyond the planning stages," the official said.
Mujahir was taken Monday morning to a high-security U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Rivers Johnson, who said Mujahir was transferred from Justice Department custody in New York City.
Military officials have not decided whether to charge Mujahir or what charges to file, the military spokesman said.
Mujahir had a lawyer in New York but his access to a lawyer probably will be severely restricted now that he is in military custody, Johnson said.
Ashcroft said Mujahir had served prison time in the United States in the early 1990s, then traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2001 and met with al-Qaida officials.
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