Alleged Al Qaeda 'Dirty Bomb' Operative in U.S. Military Custody
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 10, 2002 The Defense Department is now holding a terrorist who allegedly was plotting to build and detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States.
Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen also known as Abdullah al Mujahir, was captured May 8 when he flew into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport from Pakistan. U.S. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said today Padilla is being detained under the laws of war as an enemy combatant.
"We have a man detained who is a threat to the country," President Bush said today at the White House. "Thanks to the vigilance of our intelligence gathering and law enforcement, he is now off the streets."
At the direction of the president, the Department of Justice transferred control of Padilla to the Defense Department last night in New York City. The military is holding Padilla at the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C., Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said at a press conference this morning at the Justice Department.
"Padilla met with senior al Qaeda members to discuss plans for exploding a radioactive dispersal device, what is commonly called a 'dirty bomb,' in the United States," Wolfowitz said. "He researched nuclear weapons and received training on wiring explosives while in Pakistan. He was instructed to return to the United States to conduct reconnaissance operations for al Qaeda.
Pentagon officials have described the dirty bomb as one made of radiological materials such as spent nuclear fuel rods and conventional explosives. The bomb's blast effect is secondary to spreading intense radiation over a wide area. It doesn't have the destructive power of a conventional nuclear weapon, they said.
"Under the laws of war, Padilla's activities and his association with al Qaeda make him an enemy combatant," Wolfowitz said. "For this reason, he was turned over to the Department of Defense."
Wolfowitz noted that the plan had not reached the point of having a specific target, although Padilla had indicated some knowledge of the Washington, D.C., area.
"There was not an actual plan," he stressed. "We stopped this man in the initial planning stages, but it does underscore the continuing importance of focusing particularly on those people who may be pursuing chemical, or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons. This is one such individual."
FBI Director Robert Mueller said Padilla and senior Al Qaeda leaders had conducted substantial discussions on a plan to detonate a dirty bomb, but "it had not gone much past the discussion stage."
The government's No. 1 priority is to defend the American people from future attacks, Wolfowitz said. "To do that, we must root out those who are planning such attacks. We must find them, we must stop them and when we have them in our control, we must be able to question them about plans for future attacks."
The FBI's initial detention of Padilla demonstrates the successful sharing of information and close cooperation among U.S. government agencies that will be key to winning the war against terrorism, he said.