American accused of being al-Qaida operative begins defense

After being held for more than three years by the Navy as an "enemy combatant," an American accused of being an alleged &to=' target=_blank>al-Qaida operative will begin constructing his defense as a civilian.

In a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Jose Padilla was transferred Thursday from military to civilian custody and made his first court appearance as a criminal defendant. He had been scheduled to return Friday to enter a plea, but a judge postponed that step until Jan. 12.

A judge will determine whether the former Chicago gang member will remain in custody or be released on bail. Prosecutors said they would seek for him to be held before his trial.

One of Padilla's New York-based lawyers, Andrew Patel, was traveling to Miami to represent him at Friday's hearing.

Padilla is accused of joining a North American terror-support network that sent him overseas to train with al-Qaida and to "murder, maim and kidnap" people on foreign soil.

Earlier in the day, Padilla was taken from a South Carolina brig and flown to Miami.

Padilla was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in May 2002 and held by the Bush administration without criminal charges on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" inside the United States.

The Supreme Court has been asked to use Padilla's case to define the extent of presidential power over U.S. citizens who are detained on American soil on suspicion of terrorism. But before the high court could decide whether to take up the case, the Bush administration indicted Padilla in November in civilian court. The charges do not involve the "dirty bomb" allegations.

At the brief hearing Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber explained Padilla's rights as a criminal defendant and asked whether he understood them.

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