Suspect Served Jail Term in Florida

A man accused of plotting with Al Qaeda terrorists to set off a radioactive "dirty" bomb lived in Florida through much of the 1990s and served a jail term there, officials said Monday.

Jose Padilla, 31, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, lived in south Florida from 1990 to 1997 and was convicted of aggravated assault in 1992, authorities said. The former Chicago street gang member was born in New York's Brooklyn borough.

The alleged bomb plot involving Padilla, 31, possibly targeted Washington, but got only as far as the planning stages, authorities said.

In 1991, Padilla was arrested in Broward County and charged with aggravated assault with a firearm, firing a gun from a car, carrying a concealed firearm and possession of a gun during commission of a felony.

Police records show Padilla fired a shot out his car window after a dispute with another driver. No one was hurt. While in the county jail, he was accused of battery on a jail officer and resisting without violence.

Padilla settled all the charges with guilty pleas after 10 months behind bars. He was sentenced to a year in jail, the rest of the term was suspended, and he was placed on a year's probation.

On Monday, his prosecutor had no recollection of him. His defense attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

Padilla was issued a Florida driver's license in 1993, and state motor vehicle records show he received a speeding ticket seven months later on his 23rd birthday. His license was suspended indefinitely in 1997 for speeding.

Padilla was on probation for a year ending in August 1993, said Sterling Ivey, a state Corrections Department spokesman. During that time, state records show he completed a substance abuse program.

A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Padilla converted to Islam after his 1993 release.

The state of Florida repeatedly sent notices telling Padilla that he had failed to pay fines and appear in court but it got no response from 1996 to 1998, after which records aren't available.

Padilla's criminal history in the United States dates to growing up in Chicago, where his family moved when he was 4. He was convicted at 15 as a juvenile of aggravated battery, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery. A law enforcement official said Padilla was in custody there between November 1985 and May 1988.

Nelly Ojeda, 64, who lives in the same Chicago apartment as Padilla did as a teenager, said she was surprised by news of the arrest of the man whose nickname was Pucho.

"He was so quiet, so nice. He doesn't look like a person who would do something like that. It would surprise me if he did it," Ojeda said.