updated 8/2/2006 7:29:20 PM ET 2006-08-02T23:29:20

A federal judge reluctantly agreed Wednesday to delay the trial of al-Qaida suspect Jose Padilla and two alleged confederates on terrorism charges until early next year after defense lawyers insisted they cannot be ready any earlier.

Padilla, 35, a U.S. citizen and former Chicago gang member, was held without charges for 3 1/2 years by the U.S. military as an enemy combatant. He was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, purportedly on an al-Qaida mission to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city.

Padilla became the subject of a legal battle over President Bush's wartime detention powers, which ended when he was added late last year to an existing terrorism conspiracy and support case. The "dirty bomb" allegations were not mentioned in that case.

Padilla's lawyers say they haven't had nearly enough time to go through summaries of 50,000 intercepted phone calls, including 827 transcripts translated from Arabic. Complicating the lawyers' task is the classified nature of much of the evidence and the difficulty they have in meeting with Padilla, who is kept in his maximum-security cell at a federal detention center 23 hours a day.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke has sought for months to keep the case on track for a September trial but decided to postpone it until Jan. 22. Federal prosecutors supported the delay.

Also charged are Adham Amin Hassoun, allegedly Padilla's al-Qaida recruiter, and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, who published a newsletter describing global Islamic jihad. All have pleaded not guilty, and only Jayyousi has been granted bail.

Attorneys for Hassoun and Jayyousi also supported the delay.

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