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Alleged dirty bomber appeals to Supreme Court -- again

From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

Jose Padilla
Supreme Court
Acts of terror
Jose Padilla

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Accused "dirty bomb" terrorist and U.S. citizen Jose Padilla has again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging his indefinite military detention and his designation as an "enemy combatant."

In a petition filed late Thursday with the high court, Padilla's lawyers question whether federal authorities "have the power to seize American citizens in civilian settings on American soil and subject them to indefinite military detention without criminal charge or trial."

A federal judge in February concluded the government lacked the authority to hold Padilla indefinitely, and ordered him released from military custody. But U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd also said Padilla could remain in custody if criminal charges were filed soon against him. (Federal judge's ruling)

Floyd earlier this week granted a government request to put his ruling on hold, in order to give the Justice Department time to file an appeal with the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia.

The government last month informed the courts it intended to appeal.

But Padilla's lawyers are now trying to circumvent the process, asking the Supreme Court to intervene immediately, arguing that "delaying consideration of this case would impair the ongoing administration of criminal justice."

"We would like finality. We believe that we be will successful at the Supreme Court, once it gets there. We would like him to be released or charged," Padilla attorney Donna Newman said. "We think we have the unusual set of circumstances and facts in which the Supreme Court should carefully consider hearing our petition before the appeals court."

There was no immediate reaction from the Justice Department.

Administration officials have until May 9 to file a legal response to Padilla's motion. The court could then decide some weeks afterward whether to hear the case in oral arguments, probably in the fall.

However, the Supreme Court rarely accepts cases for review while appeals are under way in lower federal courts.

Padilla, accused of plotting terrorism, lost a similar legal challenge in the Supreme Court last June.

Padilla was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago. The former gang member has twice served prison time in the United States. After living in Egypt, Padilla allegedly trained at al Qaeda's military camps in Afghanistan 2000.

According to the Justice Department, Padilla has told interrogators that before the September 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, he met with al Qaeda's late military chief, Mohamed Atef, about the apartment bombing plot, and the terror group's since captured operations chief, Abu Zubaydah, about stealing radioactive material in order to set off a crude explosive device.

Padilla has been accused of -- but not charged with -- plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States and to blow up apartment buildings using natural gas.

Padilla was arrested at O'Hare International Airport in May 2002 after arriving on a flight from Pakistan and Switzerland. He was held as a material witness in the September 11 investigation for one month before President Bush ordered his transfer to military custody.

Padilla remains at a Navy brig in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The case is Padilla v. Hanft.

CNN's Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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