Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities have thwarted a plan by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network to explode a "dirty bomb" in an unidentified U.S. metropolitan area.
"We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or 'dirty bomb,' in the United States," said Attorney General John Ashcroft Monday.
Abdullah al-Mujahir, a U.S. citizen, was arrested May 8 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport as he got off a plane from Pakistan.
Al-Mujahir, who was born Jose Padilla, has been declared an "enemy combatant who poses a serious and continuing threat to the American people and our national security."
That designation allowed him to be transferred from the custody of the Justice Department to the Department of Defense. That transfer, Ashcroft says, has already taken place.
Ashcroft says al-Mujahir has a criminal record and served prison time in the U.S. -- reportedly in Chicago -- in the 1990s. After his release from prison, al-Mujahir traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train with al Qaeda, according to Ashcroft. Last year, he allegedly met with numerous senior al Qaeda officials "on several occasions."
"Let me be clear. We know from multiple, independent, and corroborating sources that Abdullah al-Mujahir was closely associated with al Qaeda, and as an al Qaeda operative he was involved in planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States," Ashcroft said.
"In apprehending al-Mujahir as he sought entry into the United States, we have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb.'"
Radioactive dispersion devices are conventional bombs encased in radioactive material. The initial blast causes death and injury through trauma, burns, and bleeding. Secondary deaths and illnesses are caused by the spread of the radioactive material surrounding the bomb.
Ashcroft noted the significance of al-Mujahir's U.S. citizenship.
"Al Qaeda officials knew that, as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, al-Mujahir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself," he said.
"The safety of all Americans and the national security interests of the United States require that Abdullah al-Mujahir be detained by the Defense Department as an 'enemy combatant,'" he added.
Both international law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent support al-Mujahir's transfer from civilian to military custody despite his U.S. citizenship, Ashcroft said. That's because the accused has allegedly "joined the enemy and has entered our country to carry out hostile acts."
Ashcroft complimented the intelligence and law enforcement communities for working together to capture al-Mujahir.
"Because of the close cooperation among the FBI, the CIA, Defense Department, and other federal agencies, we were able to thwart this terrorist," he concluded.
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