(CNSNews.com) - The Justice Department released newly declassified information about suspected "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla Tuesday, a U.S. citizen held in a military prison for two years now as an enemy combatant without being charged with any crime. Padilla's case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Padilla was ordered by al Qaeda's military commander, Mohammad Atef, to blow up apartment buildings in the United States, specifically New York, Florida or Washington, D.C.
Padilla had been trained in explosives, including C4, plastic explosives, dynamite and mines, as well as weapons instruction on AK-47, G3, M-16, Uzi and other machine guns, training on topography, communications, camouflage, clandestine surveillance, and physical fitness and religious training.
Padilla's first operative partner was Adnan El Shukrijumah, a man that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced last week was one of seven people wanted for questioning by the FBI.
"When Padilla saw this other operative, he recognized him immediately because he had known him from Florida. They learned about switches, circuits and timers. They learned how to seal an apartment to trap the natural gas and to prepare an explosion using that gas that would have maximum yield and destroy an apartment building," Comey said.
But Padilla didn't get along with Shukrijumah and informed Atef that he didn't think he could work with his partner, nor could he work alone, Comer said. So Padilla was given a new accomplice, who is now in U.S. custody.
According to this accomplice, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the operational leader of al Qaeda and mastermind of the Sept. 11th attacks, wanted Padilla and his partner to blow up 20 apartment buildings simultaneously.
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad suggested they enter the U.S. by way of Mexico or Puerto Rico.
Once in the country, they were to locate high-rise apartments that had natural gas supplied to all floors, "rent two apartments in each building, seal those apartments, turn on the gas and set timers to detonate and destroy the building simultaneously at a later time," Comer said.
Khalid Sheikh Muhammad gave Padilla full authority to conduct an operation if the two entered the U.S. successfully, Comer added.
In response to Muhammad's request that Padilla and his partner blow up 20 apartment buildings, Padilla pointed out that he could not possibly rent that many apartments without drawing attention to himself and that he might have to limit the operation to the destruction of two or three entire apartment buildings, the deputy attorney general said.
Padilla had originally proposed to detonate a nuclear bomb inside the U.S., but Abu Zubaydah, "one of the most important and powerful members of al Qaeda" whom Padilla had met while training in Afghanistan, thought it more feasible to detonate a radiological device - uranium wrapped with explosives to create a dirty bomb.
To carry out their mission, Padilla was given $5,000 by Muhammad and $10,000 by Muhammad's right-hand man, as well as travel documents, a cell phone, and an email address to be used to notify al Qaeda leaders once inside the U.S.
"Padilla also said something else remarkable," Comer said. "That is, the night before Jose Padilla left on his trip to the U.S., he was hosted at a farewell dinner by the mastermind of Sept. 11 and the coordinator of those attacks."
Padilla traveled to the U.S. by way of Zurich and arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on May 8, 2002.
"He was carrying over $10,000 in US currency given to him by his al Qaeda handlers, the cell phone provided to him by Muhammad's right-hand man, the names and telephone numbers of his recruiter and his sponsor" and the email address for an al Qaeda leader," Comer said.
"Padilla was arrested by the FBI in Chicago on a material witness warrant authorized by a federal judge in New York, and he was transferred to Manhattan, where I was then the United States attorney. He was appointed a lawyer at public expense, and we set about trying to see if he would tell the grand jury what he knew about al Qaeda," Comer added.
Comer praised the president for ordering in June 2002 that Padilla be turned over to the custody of the Defense Department as an enemy combatant.
According to Comer, if Padilla had been treated as a regular citizen and prosecuted through the criminal justice system, "something that I as the United States attorney in New York could not do at that time without jeopardizing intelligence sources, he would very likely have followed his lawyer's advice and said nothing, which would have been his constitutional right."
Then Padilla would have been freed, and the U.S. authorities' only hope would have been to follow him "24 hours a day, 7 days a week and hope, pray really, that we didn't lose him."
Padilla "was more than a criminal defendant with a broad menu of rights that we offer in our great criminal justice system. On May the 8th of 2002, a soldier of our enemy, a trained, funded and equipped terrorist stepped off that plane at Chicago's O'Hare," Comer said.
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