I am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the war on terrorism. 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.
I commend the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Department and other federal agencies whose cooperation made this possible.
Yesterday, after consultation with the acting secretary of defense and other senior officials, both the acting secretary of defense and I recommended that the president of the United States, in his capacity as commander in chief, determine that Abdullah al Muhajir, born Jose Padilla, determine that Muhajir is an enemy combatant who poses a serious and continued threat to the American people and our national security.
After the determination, Abdullah al Muhajir was transferred from the custody of the Justice Department to the custody of the Defense Department.
Following serving in prison in the United States in the early 1990s, Jose Padilla referred to himself as Abdullah al Muhajir. Subsequent to his release from prison, he traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan. On several occasions in 2001, he met with senior al Qaeda officials.
While in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Muhajir trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices. Al Qaeda officials knew that as a citizen of the United States, as a citizen of the United States holding a valid U.S. passport, Al Muhajir would be able to travel freely in the U.S. without drawing attention to himself.
The United States government was tracking Abdullah al Muhajir when, on May 8, 2002 — this year — he flew from Pakistan into Chicago O'Hare International Airport, where he was placed in the custody of federal law enforcement authorities.
In apprehending al Muhajir 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."
Now, a radioactive "dirty bomb" involves exploding a conventional bomb that not only kills victims in the immediate vicinity, but also spreads radioactive material that is highly toxic to humans and can cause mass death and injury.
From information available to the United States government, we know that Abdullah al Muhajir is an al Qaeda operative and was exploring a plan to build and explode a radioactive "dirty bomb."
Let me be clear: We know from multiple independent and corroborating sources that Abdullah al Muhajir was closely associated with al Qaeda and that as an al Qaeda operative he was involved in planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States.
The safety of all Americans and the national security interests of the United States require that Abdullah al Muhajir be detained by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant. In determining that al Muhajir is an enemy combatant who legally can be detained by the United States military, we have acted with legal authority both under the laws of war and clear Supreme Court precedent, which establish that the military may detain a United States citizen who has joined the enemy and has entered our country to carry out hostile acts.
Once again, I commend the FBI, the CIA and other agencies involved in capturing Abdullah al Muhajir before he could act on his deadly plan. Because of the close cooperation among the FBI, the CIA, Defense Department and other federal agencies, we were able to thwart this terrorist.
To our enemies, I say we will continue to be vigilant against all threats, whether they come from overseas or at home in America. To our citizens, I say we will continue to respect the rule of law while doing everything in our power to prevent terrorist attacks.