The indictment charges Jose Padilla of conspiring to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas.
WASHINGTON – Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held without charges for more than three years on suspicion of plotting a “dirty bomb” attack in this country, has been indicted on three counts alleging he conspired to “murder, maim and kidnap” people overseas.
The indictment naming Padilla and four others was unsealed today after being returned last week by a federal grand jury in Miami. While the charges allege Padilla was part of a U.S.-based terrorism conspiracy, they do not include the government’s earlier allegations that he planned to carry out attacks in America.
“The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference. Gonzales declined to comment on why none of the allegations involving attacks in America were included in the indictment.
Padilla, a Brooklyn-born Muslim convert, had been held as an “enemy combatant” in Defense Department custody. The Bush administration had resisted calls to charge and try him in civilian courts.
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With the indictment, Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department. Gonzales said the case would go to trial in September of 2006. Padilla faces life in prison if convicted on the three charges — one count each of conspiracy to murder, maim and kidnap people overseas, providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy.
The indictment avoids a Supreme Court showdown over how long the government may hold a U.S. citizen without charges.
“They’re avoiding what the Supreme Court would say about American citizens. That’s an issue the administration did not want to face,” said Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor who specializes in national security. “There’s no way that the Supreme Court would have ducked this issue.”
Padilla’s lawyers had asked justices to review his case last month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline next Monday for filing its legal arguments.
“The ‘evidence’ the government has offered against Padilla over the past three years consists of double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation,” his lawyers said in their earlier appeal.
The Bush administration earlier said Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States and planned an attack with a “dirty bomb” radiological device.
Gonzales sidestepped the question of why those allegations were not included in the indictment, saying he would only talk about the specific charges.
Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2002 after returning from Pakistan. The federal government has said he was trained in weapons and explosives by members of al-Qaida.
The charges against him and four others allege they were part of a North American support cell that sent money, assets and recruits overseas “for the purpose of fighting violent jihad.”
The others indicted are: Adham Amin Hassoun a Lebanese-born Palestinian who lived in Broward County, Fla.;, Mohammed Hesham Youssef, an Egyptian who lived in Broward County; Kifah Wael Jayyousi, a Jordanian national and U.S. citizen who lived in San Diego; and Kassem Daher, a Lebanese citizen with Canadian residency status.
Hassoun also was indicted on eight additional charges, including perjury, obstruction of justice and illegal firearm possession.
Hassoun, a Palestinian computer programmer who moved to Florida in 1989, was arrested in June 2002 for allegedly overstaying his student visa. Prosecutors previously described him as a former associate of Padilla.
Padilla has been held at a Navy brig in South Carolina. Following the indictment, which was handed up last Thursday, President Bush sent a memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordering Padilla transferred to the federal detention facility in Miami.