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Prosecutors: Suspect did 'dirty bomb' research in Pakistan

Padilla is currently held in a military brig.
Padilla is currently held in a military brig.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A U.S. citizen being held as an enemy combatant allegedly researched how to build a "dirty bomb" at an al Qaeda facility in Pakistan, according to court documents filed Tuesday night by federal prosecutors.

Additionally, Jose Padilla planned to use radioactive material stolen in the United States to construct the "uranium-enhanced" device, prosecutors allege.

The documents also allege Padilla, a "close associate of al Qaeda," met in Pakistan with senior operatives of the terrorist network to discuss carrying out other terrorist acts in the United States, including multiple, simultaneous bombing attacks on targets including train stations, hotels and gas stations.

The information about Padilla's alleged activities came from "several confidential sources," including two al Qaeda associates being detained outside the country, according to the documents.

What is a 'dirty bomb'? 
The potential impact 
Guide to radioactive elements 
Terrorism In-Depth: Background on dirty bombs 
Jose Padilla's rap sheet 
The plan, the suspect, the arrest 
U.S. government's response and motion 

A "dirty bomb" is a conventional explosive device also containing material that can spread radioactivity once it goes off. The alleged "dirty bomb" plan by Padilla and an unnamed associate "was still in the initial planning stages, and there was no specific time set for the operation to occur," according to the documents.

The documents were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in response to a motion filed on Padilla's behalf for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he is being unlawfully detained by the U.S. military at a Naval brig in South Carolina. Prosecutors are asking that the motion be dismissed.

Padilla, who also went by the names Abdullah al Mujajir and Ibrahim Padilla, was arrested May 8 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after traveling from Pakistan via Switzerland. In June, President Bush declared him an unlawful enemy combatant and ordered him put in military custody, despite the fact he is a U.S. citizen and faces no formal charges.

The designation of enemy combatant allows U.S. authorities to interrogate a suspect in a more aggressive fashion and gives a suspect fewer rights than an ordinary civilian defendant in a criminal case.

The government outlined its claims in the motion to dismiss the habeas corpus petition, as well as in a previously classified memo by Michael Mobbs, a special adviser to the Defense Department on matters related to detentions of terrorist suspects.

In their motion, prosecutors argued the military is lawfully holding Padilla.

"The capture and detention of enemy combatants during wartime falls within the president's core constitutional powers as commander-in-chief, which, in the present conflict, are exercised with the specific support of Congress," the motion said, adding that court precedents "firmly" establish that citizenship of detainees is not relevant to whether they can be detained.

"Nor is it significant that an enemy combatant is captured within United States territory in civilian dress rather than in uniform or on a foreign battlefield," the motion said. "In a time of war, an enemy combatant is subject to capture and detention wherever found."

Prosecutors also argued that courts should defer to the president's judgment on designating enemy combatants because "such determinations involve highly sensitive intelligence information and judgment calls about the credibility of foreign intelligence sources."

In their motion, prosecutors also asked the court to reject the argument made in Padilla's petition that holding him in military custody amounts to involving the military in civilian law enforcement, which is contrary to federal law.

"Padilla's detention as an enemy combatant does not involve the military in civilian law enforcement, but instead involves a quintessentially military activity -- military detention of an enemy combatant in a time of armed conflict to ensure the national security," the motion said.

According to Mobbs' memo, Padilla served time for murder as a juvenile in Illinois and was later imprisoned in Florida on weapons charges. In 1998, he moved to Egypt and later traveled to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

While in Afghanistan in 2001, Padilla and an unnamed associate met with Abu Zubaydah, a senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, to propose a plan to conduct terrorist operations within the United States, Mobbs wrote.

Zubaydah then directed Padilla and his associate to travel to Pakistan for training, the memo said.

"Padilla and his associate conducted research in the construction of a 'uranium-enhanced' explosive device. In particular, they engaged in research on this topic at one of the al Qaeda safehouse in Lahore, Pakistan," Mobbs wrote. "The plan included stealing radioactive material for the bomb within the United States.

-- CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.




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