Background: Dirty Bomb
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KWAME HOLMAN: The suspect is a convert to Islam, now using the name Abdullah al Muhajir. He once was known as Jose Padilla. He is a 31-year-old American citizen who was convicted on a handgun charge in Florida in 1991.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrest, saying al Muhajir has connections to al-Qaida.
JOHN ASHCROFT: On several occasions in 2001, he met with senior al-Qaida officials. While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Muhajir trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices. Al-Qaida officials knew that as an citizen of the United States… as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, al Muhajir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself. In apprehending al Muhajir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb.
KWAME HOLMAN: A dirty bomb packages radioactive material with conventional explosives such as dynamite. The radioactive material can be highly toxic, capable of causing large numbers of deaths and illnesses. A device might be especially deadly to people close by, but would not be comparable to a nuclear detonation.
Defense and Justice Department officials answered questions about al Muhajir at a Washington news conference this morning. FBI Director Robert Mueller was asked whether al Muhajir had made a bomb.
ROBERT MUELLER: There were discussions about this possible plan, and it was in the discussion stage. And it had not gone, as far as we know, much past the discussion stage, but there were substantial discussions undertaken.
KWAME HOLMAN: Justice officials say al Muhajir was detained on May 8 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after he got off a flight from Pakistan. From Chicago, he was taken to New York, and today transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, into the custody of the Defense Department at the Naval consolidated brig. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explained why the Pentagon now has control of al Muhajir, who officials refer to as Padilla.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: He researched nuclear weapons and received training in wiring explosives while in Pakistan, and he was instructed to return to the United States to conduct reconnaissance operations for al-Qaida. Under the laws of war, Padilla’s activities and his association with al-Qaida make him an enemy combatant. For this reason, Jose Padilla has been turned over to the Department of Defense.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wolfowitz was asked if al Muhajir was targeting the nation’s capital.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: It certainly wasn’t at the point of having a specific target. He had indicated some knowledge of the Washington, D.C., area, but I want to emphasize again, there was not an actual plan.
KWAME HOLMAN: Officials said because al Muhajir is a United States citizen, he is not eligible to be tried before a military commission. No formal charges have been filed against him yet.