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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Charges Padilla in Terror Plot

WASHINGTON -- Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held in a military brig for more than three years on suspicion of plotting a "dirty bomb" attack, has been charged with conspiracy to murder and aiding terrorists abroad, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

The 11-count federal indictment -- the first brought against Padilla since his arrest on May 8, 2002 -- accused him and four other men of running a U.S. support cell providing money and recruits for a jihad campaign overseas.

It included no reference to previous accusations against Padilla, made with great fanfare by U.S. officials, that he plotted with al-Qaida to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States and blow up apartment buildings.

Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan at a time of high alert following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when U.S. troops were fighting al-Qaida militants and supporters in Afghanistan.

Human rights activists and some lawmakers and lawyers questioned the government's authority to detain him without charges indefinitely as an "enemy combatant."

Padilla's lawyers asked the Supreme Court last month to limit this authority.

The main charges against the men were: conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country; conspiracy to provide material support for terrorists; and providing material support for terrorists -- all between October 1993 and about Nov. 1, 2001. They could face life in prison if convicted.

The indictment said Padilla traveled abroad to receive militant training, but did not say where.

"All of these defendants are alleged members of a violent terrorist support cell that operated in the United States and Canada," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news conference. Gonzales declined to comment on the previous dirty bomb or apartment bombing claims, saying they were outside Tuesday's indictment. Justice Department officials said the outlined charges did not back away from previous statements and did not rule out other charges in the future.

Padilla's lawyer, Donna Newman, said in New York that her client denied all of the allegations and looked forward to being vindicated at trial. "We are very happy about this indictment. It's what we've asked for. You don't hold American citizens without charges," Newman said. "Now we can go to court and challenge the government's assertions."

Jennifer Daskal, of advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said the indictment "is a welcome development, albeit three years too late. Anyone picked up outside the combat environment should be charged or released."

As part of the proceedings, U.S. President George W. Bush authorized Padilla's transfer from military to Justice Department control. Gonzales said Padilla was "no longer being detained ... as an enemy combatant."

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and convert to Islam, had been held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina military brig under the sweeping presidential powers enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.