A grand jury in Miami returned the indictment against Padilla and four others. While the charges allege Padilla was part of a terrorism conspiracy, they do not include previous allegations that he planned to carry out attacks in the United States.
"The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting a violent jihad," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference.
Gonzales said if convicted of the charges against him, Padilla could face life in prison. However, the attorney general would not comment on why none of the allegations involving attacks in America were included in the indictment.
Padilla, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Muslim convert, has been held as an "enemy combatant" in Defense Department custody for more than three years. The Bush administration had resisted calls to try him in civilian courts. With the indictment, Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department.
But now, Gonzales says charges against Padilla are not related to his previous status as an "enemy combatant."
"The president says we are going to use all available tools to deal with this new kind of enemy, to deal with this terrorist threat," Gonzales said.
According to the indictment, Gonzales said, Padilla allegedly "filled (out) a terrorist training camp application," and belonged to a "violent terrorist support cell ... operating through the U.S. and Canada."
Gonzales said the group of five men is accused of "speaking in code and using non-governmental organizations as a front for non-legitimate activities."
The indictment avoids a Supreme Court showdown. Padilla's lawyers hadlast month, and the Bush administration was facing a deadline next Monday for filing its legal arguments.
"The 'evidence' the government has offered against Padilla over the past three years consists of double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation," his lawyers said in their earlier appeal.
"They're avoiding what the Supreme Court would say about American citizens. That's an issue the administration did not want to face," said Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor who specializes in national security. "There's no way that the Supreme Court would have ducked this issue."
The Bush administration has said Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, sought to blow up hotels and apartment buildings in the United States and planned an attack with a "dirty bomb" radiological device.