Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Justice Department: Padilla Planned To Blow Up U.S. Buildings

By J.M. Berger

Accused al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla was planning to blow up buildings in the American Southwest or New York City, according to the Justice Department, which released documents related to the Padilla case Tuesday.

The plan called for Padilla and at least one unnamed accomplice to rent apartments in several buildings within a confined area which were equipped with natural gas ovens, according to the documents themselves, and a related statement by Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

External Link: Full Document Via TheSmokingGun

The conspirators would then fill the apartments with gas and detonate them simultaneously using timer devices, Comey said. At one point, the plan called for blowing up 20 buildings simultaneously. But the plan was scaled back out of practical considerations, the documents said, when Padilla objected that he could not lease that many apartments in the same vicinity without being caught.

According to the Justice Department document, Padilla obtained his first passport on April 17, 1996. The release features the following disclaimer on its first page: "(This document) does not cover Padilla's activities in the United States prior to his departure (in September 1998) nor his connections to persons in the United States." (See story: Jose Padilla and John Doe 2)

The document says Padilla trained with Adnan El-Shukrijumah, a fellow resident of South Florida during the mid-1990s. The document confirmed previous reports that Padilla and Shukrijumah had met in the U.S. The South Florida metro region where the two is connected to some known al Qaeda recruiting efforts during this period. (Related Story: McVeigh traveled to Florida during key recruitment period)

Padilla and Shukrijumah were originally intended to work together, but Comey said they "could not get along. That personality conflict led them to abandon this operation, although only temporarily."

The U.S. government is detaining an accomplice who was supposed to work with Padilla, according to the document. The document does not name the accomplice, nor does it specify the circumstances of his arrest and detention. The accomplice had refugee status in the U.K., the report said.

"We have not declassified his identity so I can't tell you who the accomplice is right now except to tell you he's in custody," Comey said.

Padilla's accomplice was tasked with building the detonators for the apartment explosions. The design specified in the document is similar to one designed by Ramzi Yousef for use in the infamous Project Bojinka, a precursor to the September 11 plot.

According to the document, Padilla worked with and took instructions from Ammar al-Baluchi, who is believed to be a nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a first cousin of Yousef. Khalid Shaikh helped design the apartment bombing plot, according to the document, and he suggested Padilla consider targets in the American Southwest, Texas or California.

Al-Baluchi was reportedly arrested in early 2003.

Related Stories:

Background Information on Jose Padilla

Jose Padilla and John Doe 2