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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 23:28 GMT
'Dirty bomb' suspect to get lawyer
'Dirty bomb' suspect Jose Padilla
Jose Padilla is being held in a military jail
A man accused of plotting to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the United States may meet his lawyers despite government opposition, a judge has ruled.

US District Judge Michael Mukasey rejected a government plea for him to overturn his decision last December that Jose Padilla should be allowed access to legal counsel.

Prosecutors accuse Mr Padilla, a US citizen, of conspiring with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network to blow up a radiological device.

They had argued to the judge that attempts to prevent future terrorist attacks could be harmed if Mr Padilla was permitted to meet lawyers.

Mr Padilla, 31, was designated an "enemy combatant" last June and consequently lost many rights usually afforded to US citizens after arrest.

Judge Mukasey, sitting in New York City, granted access to counsel for Mr Padilla last December, but no meetings were allowed while the ruling was being reconsidered.

Passionate arguments

The government submitted written arguments that allowing Mr Padilla to meet his lawyers "risks that plans for future attacks will go undetected".

There is every reason to hope, but also to expect that this case will be just another of the isolated cases... that deal with isolated events and have limited application
Judge Michael Mukasey
They claimed the defence team would persuade him not to share information with the government.

The judge described the defence arguments as suggesting that a failure to give Mr Padilla a lawyer would mean "a dictatorship will be upon us, the tanks will have rolled".

In his own ruling, he wrote: "Those to whom images of catastrophe come that easily might take comfort in recalling that it is a year and a half since 11 September 11 2001, and Padilla's is not only the first, but also the only case of its kind."

He added: "There is every reason to hope, but also to expect that this case will be just another of the isolated cases... that deal with isolated events and have limited application."

A member of the defence team fighting to overturn the enemy combatant ruling said she was pleased with the ruling; a government spokesman said the decision was being studied.

Held without trial

Mr Padilla was arrested on 8 May last year in Chicago as he returned from a trip to Pakistan.

Combine radiological material with conventional explosives
Potential sources for material include hospitals and nuclear power plants
Detonation could cause radiation sickness
Experts say it would be difficult to cause mass casualties

He was first held as a material witness in a grand jury investigation of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

On 9 June, he was designated an enemy combatant - a classification normally used for wartime prisoners who may be held without charge or trial and without access to lawyers.

The government said Mr Padilla approached Abu Zubaydah - thought to have served as Bin Laden's field commander - in Afghanistan in 2001 and proposed stealing radioactive material to detonate a "dirty bomb" in the US.

Experts say such a device, made of radioactive material attached to conventional explosives, can cause harm both directly from the blast and from exposure to radiation.

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