CHICAGO – Jose Padilla, the American citizen suspected of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the U.S., has an extensive criminal record – including an involvement in a gang-related murder when he was 15.
Padilla, 31, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the northwest side of Chicago since age 5, was a street gang member as a teenager.
He spent time in juvenile detention for armed robbery in 1985 that left one victim dead of stab wounds, according to Cook County court documents.
Armed with a baseball bat, Padilla robbed three men along with an accomplice who wielded a knife. One man fled but the two thieves chased him, and Padilla’s accomplice stabbed him in the stomach. The victim later died of his injuries, and Padilla spent time in an alternative high school in Chicago for his involvement in the crime. He was released shortly thereafter.
In addition to his criminal record and gang connections, Padilla used several aliases. Though he had several run-ins with the law as a teen, in his younger days he was a fairly typical boy. Those who knew him – including the family who rented the house to his family — described him as a normal child who spent time playing and studying.
Nelly Ojeda, 64, who lives in the same Chicago three-story flat where Padilla lived as a teen, said the boy, nicknamed Pucho, used to play basketball at his elementary school down the street. He would have friends over; they would watch TV, play Nintendo and romp in the backyard, she said.
"He was so quiet. He doesn't look like a person who would do something like that. It would surprise me if he did it," Ojeda told The Associated Press.
She told Fox News that Padilla "was a very nice kid. I have nothing bad to say about him."
The same description came from teachers and the principal at the school he attended a block away. Some teachers recognized him from his picture immediately; none remembered him getting into any kind of trouble. The principal echoed those sentiments, saying he was a quiet, above-average student.
But Padilla changed as he grew older, first joining a gang and then committing crimes like the armed robbery. He spent another stint in prison for opening fire on a motorist.
Padilla, also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, lived in Florida through much of the 1990s and converted to Islam after serving time in a South Florida jail, officials said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Padilla traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2001 and met with Al Qaeda officials, where he "trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices."
He became involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb in the U.S., according to the Justice Department The alleged scheme possibly targeted Washington but got only as far as the planning stages, authorities said.
Padilla was arrested May 8 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He had been held quietly for weeks in New York, then was flown Monday to a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. He was being treated as an enemy combatant of this country.
In 1985, Padilla, who was 14 at the time, kicked a victim — a stranger who had been stabbed by a friend — in the head "because he felt like it," according to a police report cited by The New York Times. Padilla also pushed an officer during the encounter, the Times reported.
At age 15, he was convicted as a juvenile of aggravated battery, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery and was in custody in Illinois from November 1985 to May 1988. Officials would not elaborate on Padilla's past with the Chicago gang.
In May 1990, while working a $200-a-week job at the Hilton Inn in Sunrise, Padilla filed a worker's compensation claim after sustaining "miscellaneous injuries to multiple body parts," said Rebecca Ardley of the Florida Division of Workers Compensation.
Ardley said Padilla did not miss more than seven days of work and did not receive any benefits from claim.
In 1992, a year after he was released from parole, Padilla was convicted in Florida of aggravated assault with a firearm, officials said.
Police records show Padilla showed a handgun to another driver after a traffic encounter. When the driver followed Padilla to get his license plate, Padilla pulled in front and fired out the passenger window. No one was hurt.
When Padilla was arrested outside his Lauderhill home, he had a silver .38-caliber revolver in his waistband, police said. Sunrise Police Lt. Charles Vitale, who made the arrest, said Padilla was cooperative and had been living with a girlfriend.
At the time, Padilla identified himself as Catholic and told police he had worked at a Holiday Inn setting up banquet rooms for two weeks. Records show he has his name "Jose" tattooed on his right arm.
His Chicago neighbor, who said she kept in touch with Padilla's mother, said Padilla married a woman from the Middle East several years ago and the couple moved there.
While in the Broward County Jail, Padilla was accused of battery on a jail officer and resisting without violence in January 1992. He settled the charges with guilty pleas after spending 10 months behind bars.
He was sentenced to a year in jail, the rest of the term was suspended, and he was placed on probation for a year. During that time, state records show he completed a substance abuse program.
The suspect's mother, Estela Ortega, lives in Plantation, Ill., but left a note on her apartment's door asking reporters to "please leave this family in peace," The Washington Post said in its Tuesday editions.
Victor Olds, who is representing Ortega, said his client appeared before a grand jury two weeks ago to discuss her son, the newspaper reported.
Fox News' Steve Brown, Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.