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‘Dirty bomb’ suspect charged

he plotted with al Qaeda to set off a radioactive "dirty bomb" in America and blow up apartment buildings using natural gas.

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 Justice Department said.

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 Qaeda to set off a radioactive «dirty bomb» in America and blow up apartment buildings using natural gas.

Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan at a time of high alert following the September 11, 2001, attacks, when U.S. troops were fighting al Qaeda 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 November 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,» 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.