WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Tuesday that Jose Padilla, the man arrested in an alleged plot to spread radioactive material across parts of America, is one of many "would-be killers" the United States has in custody. And there will be more, he promised.
"This guy Padilla's one of many who we've arrested," Bush said in a Cabinet Room meeting on his proposed overhaul of homeland security programs.
"The coalition we've put together has hauled in 2,400 people. And you can call it 2,401 now. There's just a full-scale manhunt on. ... We will run down every lead, every hint. This guy Padilla's a bad guy and he is where he needs to be, detained."
In Budapest, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday the indefinite imprisonment of Padilla, 31, is proper because of the seriousness of the threat.
"We believe that by his detention that we have significantly disrupted a potential plot to deploy a dirty bomb, an explosive device, in the United States," Ashcroft said.
Defending the decision to consider Padilla, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, an enemy combatant, Ashcroft said the government has "very significant information" about Padilla's involvement "with al-Qaida in very serious terrorist plots."
The government, which on Monday revealed Padilla's arrest, described the move as a significant blow against an al-Qaida plot to detonate a radiological weapon -- known as a "dirty bomb" -- inside the United States, possibly targeting Washington. Authorities described Padilla as a former gang member from Chicago who was raised Catholic but converted to Islam.
Officials said the plot got only as far as the planning stage and they said there was no indication Padilla had access to nuclear materials. Undersecretary of State John Bollton indicated Padilla was carrying plans for the the attack when he was picked up in Chicago.
Already on the trail of an alleged plot to spread deadly radioactive material across parts of America, U.S. investigators in Pakistan watched Padilla, their key suspect, board a plane bound for Switzerland.
Padilla believed he was slipping away from Pakistani authorities who had detained him and at least two colleagues on immigration charges, a U.S. official said. Authorities suspected Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was headed to America to scout locations for possible bombings.
But Padilla, traveling from Pakistan via Zurich to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, was under continuous surveillance by U.S. agents on those flights, and the FBI was waiting to arrest him May 8 as his plane arrived at the gate.
Dirty bombs comprise traditional explosives combined with radioactive material. They would not create a nuclear explosion, but they could release small amounts of radioactive material over dozens of city blocks. Experts believe the most devastating effect would be the ensuing panic and the difficulty sending rescue workers into the contaminated area.
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