Speaking via satellite from Moscow, Ashcroft said the suspect, Abdulla al Mujahir, was a terrorist affiliated with the al-Qaida network. The U.S. believes al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, masterminded the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
Al Mujahir, a U.S. citizen also known as Jose Padilla, was arrested May 8 after flying into Chicago’s O’Hare airport from Pakistan. Ashcroft said the information leading to the suspect’s arrest came from “multiple, independent, corroborating sources.”
Press reports have quoted unnamed officials saying the planned attack would have targeted Washington, D.C. But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters Monday morning the plan was “not at the point of having a specific target,” although he said al Mujahir did have “some knowledge of the Washington, D.C. area.”
Wolfowitz said al Mujahir had researched nuclear weapons and was conducting reconnaissance for al-Qaida in the United States.
Earlier, Ashcroft said al Mujahir “trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices.”
The attorney general said that by arresting al Mujahir, the U.S. has “disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb.”
A “dirty bomb” is a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material that, when detonated, can spew highly toxic materials over a wide area, causing mass death and injury.
The attorney general said al Mujahir is being treated as an enemy combatant and remains in the custody of the U.S. military in Charleston, South Carolina.