Jose Padilla, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, was indicted Nov. 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida for his alleged role in what the government has called a "violent jihad support cell" operating in southern Florida. Padilla, a U.S. citizen and convert to Islam, has been held by the U.S. Department of Defense and designated an enemy combatant since his 2002arrest. He is best known for allegedly plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a "dirty bomb" — an improvised device intended to disperse radiation — inside the United States. Padilla was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., which makes him a "home-grown terrorist," unlike individuals who emigrate or travel to countries from their home countries to participate in jihadist activities. According to the indictment, Padilla was in Afghanistan in 2000 for jihadist training. This is a characteristic shared by members of the cell that carried out the July 7 London bombings and members of the Virginia Jihad Network. Padilla and at least one other member of his cell traveled overseas for training, while the other members concentrated on raising funds and recruiting. In this respect, the south Florida cell was similar to a cell purportedly led by Ali al-Timimi, a U.S.-born Islamist ideologue who was convicted
in April for encouraging others to conduct terrorist operations against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Padilla and four other individuals were indicted for providing material support for terrorists and conspiring to murder, kidnap and maim persons in a foreign country. These allegations are similar to charges leveled against members of the Virginia Jihad Network
and Hamid Hayat, an alleged member of a terrorist cell uncovered in Lodi, Calif
. The indictment makes no mention of Padilla's reported plot to detonate a "dirty bomb," supposedly because evidence of the plan was obtained from two al Qaeda members through torture. If the "dirty bomb" plot was real, however, it is another point of similarity between the south Florida cell and similar loosely-affiliated cells. The cell of which Padilla allegedly was a member was small, with few members and that raised less than $100,000 between 1993 and 2002. Though these loosely-connected, small cells might support and facilitate parts of al Qaeda, their actual involvement in operations has been shown to be less significant. The connections such cells have to al Qaeda's main body are often tenuous; some members might be associated with the jihadist network's leadership elements, but these connections are usually through several degrees of separation. Such cells on al Qaeda's fringes often perform important logistical support functions, but some of their members harbor far-fetched, almost fantastic plans. It is possible that these individuals are allowed to pursue their grandiose schemes in order to keep them motivated and involved in the cell's other activities. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
, a 23-year-old from Falls Church, Va., who was arrested in Saudi Arabia, was indicted in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate U.S. President George W. Bush. In actuality, Ali's handlers in Saudi Arabia probably had other plans for him but allowed him to believe he was being groomed for a big, important operation to assassinate Bush. If al Qaeda was seriously planning to detonate an improvised radiological device or assassinate the U.S. president, it is unlikely that the jihadist network's leaders would entrust such complex and important operations to a former gang member or an inexperienced kid from Virginia. Another characteristic the south Florida cell shares with other small nodes is the combination of intellectuals and street punks in the same group. Adham Amin Hassoun, a Lebanese-born Palestinian who lived in Broward County, Fla., and worked as a computer programmer, was among those indicted along with Padilla. Hassoun and two other members performed the planning, fundraising and recruiting functions, while Padilla was being groomed as a "foot soldier" and was not as valuable to the organization. It is unlikely that Padilla and his alleged co-conspirators will be charged with anything in connection with a "dirty bomb" plot, but the charges they currently face can land them in Federal Prison for life.