The Justice Department announced Tuesday criminal charges have been filed against Jose Padilla — the U.S. citizen who had been held for over three years in solitary confinement on a military brig in South Carolina. Padilla was first detained in 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after returning from a trip to Pakistan. At the time Attorney General John Ashcroft warned the government had “disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive “dirty bomb.” On Tuesday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced Padilla is being removed from military custody and charged with a series of crimes. The charges do not include the “dirty bomb” claim made at the time of Padilla’s arrest.
A 24-year old Arab-American was convicted Tuesday of joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate President Bush. Houston native Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was tried after spending nearly two years in a Saudi Arabian prison, where he says was tortured into making a confession. Two doctors who examined him corroborated his claim. Abu Ali moved to Saudi Arabia to study Islam in the year 2000. He was arrested three years later while taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina. He’ll be sentenced on February 17, and faces life in prison.
The British government has threatened to sue newspapers that publish contents of a leaked memo in which President Bush allegedly discusses bombing the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeerah. The government says it would take action under the Official Secrets Act, which makes it illegal come into the possession of government information without lawful authority. The British newspaper Daily Mirror disclosed the memo Tuesday. The paper based its a report on a confidential Downing Street memo that claimed Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 that he wanted to attack Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar. Blair allegedly talked Bush out of the strike, fearing revenge attacks. The Daily Mirror says it will comply with the government’s threat against publication. But Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace said : “We made [the government] fully aware of the intention to publish and were given 'no comment' officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act].” Two British civil servants have been charged in connection with the leak.
The Bush administration has announced it will lift a six-year arms embargo and resume full relations with the Indonesian military. The State Department said it will provide aid to “help modernise the Indonesian military, provide further incentives for reform of the Indonesian military, and support US and Indonesian security objectives, including counterterrorism, maritime security and disaster relief.” Military ties with Indonesia were scaled back following a massacre of civilians in East Timor in 1991. Indonesia occupied East Timor for over 25 years, where it was accused of killing over 200,000 people. It has also killed thousands in the embattled Aceh province over the last decade. In a statement, the East Timor Action Network said : “US support for an unreformed military which remains above the law is not in the interest of the United States or Indonesia. This is a profoundly disappointing and sad day for human rights protections everywhere but especially in Indonesia, East Timor, and the US.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the military says it has killed almost sixty rebels. The offensive took place in the northeastern Ituri region in a three-day raid backed by UN troops. The military says the rebels are part of the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front, an armed group thought to have given up most of its weapons in a demobilization program earlier this year. A spokesperson for the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said thousands of civilians have fled villages near the fighting. Since 1999, clashes between militias in the area have killed more than 50,000 and forced half a million people to flee their homes.
In Iraq, a suicide bomber killed 21 people in the town of Kirkuk Tuesday. In Tikrit, mortar shelling disrupted a ceremony marking the transfer of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces from American to Iraqi control. The shell failed to explode but forced U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and military commander General George Casey to take cover inside the palace. Meanwhile, a senior Sunni leader is dead after gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms broke into his home and killed him. Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe and the brother of a parliamentary candidate in the December 15 election. Three of his brothers were also killed. Meanwhile, an adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said a representative from an insurgent group had accepted a government offer to negotiate with those willing to lay down their arms. The adviser did not name the group.