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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Friday, December 1, 2006

No 'Dirty Bomb' Questions During Padilla Interrogation?

FBI FD-302 From Day Of Padilla's Arrest Inconsistent With Later
Urgency About Imminent Plot By 'Enemy Combatant'

By J.M. Berger

An official record of the first FBI interrogation of Jose Padilla following his 2002 arrest contains no reference to al Qaeda or a "dirty bomb" plot Padilla was allegedly spearheading.

PHOTOS: Stills From Video of Jose Padilla During Enemy Combatant Detention

Padilla was detained on May 8, 2002, at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where he had been arrested upon entering the country.

The subsequent FBI interrogation is memorialized in an FD-302 record introduced as an exhibit during Padilla's ongoing trial in Florida. FD-302 is the FBI's routine form for recording the details of an interview by agents.

During three hours of interrogation, Padilla was asked about his personal history, family details and travel, but the record reflects no question or answer directly dealing with his alleged ties to al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, at the end of the session the alleged al Qaeda operative was detained on a material witness warrant related to a "conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction."

More than a month later, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Padilla had been detained as a suspected "dirty bomber."

Padilla "is an Al Qaeda operative and was exploring a plan to build and explode a radioactive 'dirty bomb,'" Ashcroft said.

According to Ashcroft, the arrest "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb.'"

"The safety of all Americans and the national security interests of the United States require that Abdullah Al Muhajir (Padilla's alias) be detained by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant," Ashcroft said. Padilla was subsequently detained for more than three years without being charged or allowed to meet with an attorney.

The FD-302 interrogation record does not seem to reflect Ashcroft's sense of urgency in any way. The 302 describes an almost leisurely discussion of Padilla's personal history and his interest in Islam. Padilla was even provided with dinner during a one-hour break after the first hour of interrogation.

However, it is important to note that details may have been omitted from the record when it was transcribed, or the form may have been edited after the fact.

Previous internal investigations by the FBI's Inspector General have found fault with the lack of standards for FD-302s, including a lack of clear guidelines as to the appropriateness of after-the-fact editing.

One page is also missing from the early part of the document as it was filed with the U.S. District Court in Florida. The missing section (page 4) is immediately preceded by and followed by a discussion of Padilla's family history; the missing page appears to be part of that narrative.

INTELWIRE has posted the document as it was filed. The interrogation record may be viewed by clicking here.

FBI agents present for the interview included Special Agents R.J. Holley and Todd T. Schmitt.

Padilla told the agents his most recent residences were in Cairo and Tanta, Egypt, but could not provide an address or phone number for either location. He told the FBI he had come to Chicago to visit his son, and subsequently planned to visit his mother in Florida.

Padilla said his first introduction to Islam came while he was in a Florida prison serving time on gun charges. There, he met a member of the Nation of Islam, who sparked his interest in Islam generally. He told FBI agents he could not remember this individual's name.

The Nation of Islam's beliefs are modeled on traditional Islam, but are not the same.

While in prison, Padilla had a vision that increased his interest in the religion.

"After a fight with another immate, PADILLA was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for the altercation," the FBI report states. "PADILLA went on a three day hunger strike while in confinement and during this time, had a dream which he thought was of significance.

"In a brief moment during this dream, PADILLA saw himself floating and was wearing a black hood and a blue robe. This 'vision' inspired PADILLA to focus intently on the study of Islam," the report says.

Padilla said he studied Islam after his release from prison at the Darul Uloom center in Davie, Florida, according to the record. While working at a Taco Bell in Davie, he learned to read Arabic and studied Islam during the evenings with the hopes of becoming an Islamic scholar.

According to Padilla, he determined that his vocation would best be served by study abroad, and he left the country in 1998, over his wife's objections.

In Egypt, Padilla married a second wife with whom he had two children. He studied Salafism, an extremely fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam with a strong focus on jihad. He traveled to Mecca, Saudi Arabia during Ramadan of either 1999 or 2000, where he was offered an oppourtunity to study Islam in Pakistan, by his own account.

Padilla refused to answer any detailed questions about his "activities and associates in Pakistan," according to the 302 form. According to subsequent media reports, those associates included top al Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, but neither man is named in the 302.

Padilla was asked about the $10,000 in cash found on his person at the time of his arrest and said it had been given to him by "an Egyptian based man" as a "simple gift by a fellow Muslim who wanted Padilla to visit his family and introduce his son to Islam."

U.S. officials first indicated that the money carried by Padilla was intended for use in buying materials for a "dirty bomb," or radiological disperson device, which consists of a traditional explosive designed to scatter radioactive debris over a wide area. Later, U.S. officials backed off of this claim and alleged Padilla was plotting to blow up apartment buildings using improvised materials.

Padilla was also asked whether he was traveling alone, which he claimed was the case. However, "PADILLA recalled seeing a man in an adjoining office" in Pakistan, where he had been stopped for questioning regarding his passport. Padilla had replaced his passport before traveling from Pakistan after claiming his first one was stolen.

Padilla "speculated that (the other man) may have been detained for questioning by Pakistani authorities for similar reasons." Padilla said he didn't know the man, didn't know what had happened to him after the questioning, and "never saw the man previously and it was not possible that" the man knew him.

By the third hour of the interview, Padilla still did not seem unduly concerned with the line of questioning. He said he was tired and wanted to call his mother and see his son. Padilla became "insulted that he was being interviewed when he had done nothing wrong and had been cooperative with the agents."

Finally, at 7:35 p.m., more than four hours after the interrogation began, Padilla refused a request to meet with agents the next day. He was asked to voluntarily travel with the agents to New York, but refused.

Padilla was then arrested on a material witness warrant from the Southern District of New York to testify before a grand jury about information he might possess concerning "a conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, bombing or bombing conspiracy and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction."

The reference to the warrant -- on page nine of the nine page FD-302 form -- is the only reference in the entire document to WMDs and the only reference that in any way suggests that agents were concerned with a "dirty bomb" plot. The record contains no references to al Qaeda, or terrorist training camps, and it does not name any al Qaeda leaders or operatives.

Click here to view the FD-302 in its entirety.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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