A judge granted Montgomery County jail officials yesterday the authority to force-feed convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad, who has refused to eat or drink since he was transferred Monday from a Virginia prison.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan issued the order after the county's Department of Correction and Rehabilitation filed court papers yesterday saying Muhammad was "in imminent danger of very serious bodily harm, including death, if he does not begin to receive nourishment within the next several days."

Corrections officials said in the court papers that Muhammad, 44, objected to the food at the jail in Clarksburg and to limits on his access to legal documents. The court papers quote Muhammad as directing a correctional officer to tell the warden to "get the IVs ready."

Muhammad's attorney, public defender Paul DeWolfe, argued during a hearing yesterday that the county should resolve the problems with his client rather than force-feed him. Nonetheless, the judge gave the go-ahead to feed him against his will if necessary.

As of about 9 p.m. yesterday, authorities had not exercised that option, said a person familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Muhammad, who has been sentenced to death for a sniper killing in Prince William County, was driven Monday from a prison in Sussex County, Va., to the Montgomery County processing center, where authorities said he was uncooperative during fingerprinting.

Muhammad's fellow defendant, Lee Boyd Malvo, 20, has been jailed in Montgomery since May 25. He was convicted of a sniper killing in Fairfax County and sentenced to life in prison.

In Montgomery, both men face murder charges in six 2002 slayings. Of the 10 Washington area sniper slayings, the first five and the final one took place in the county. If convicted, Muhammad could again be sentenced to death, and Malvo could face six consecutive life terms in prison.

State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler has said that prosecution of the two men in Montgomery is necessary as an "insurance policy," in case they are freed on appeal elsewhere. A hearing scheduled for Sept. 2 will determine the time for future hearings and dates for Muhammad's trial.

According to the court papers, Joan Cappell, a nurse practitioner for the Montgomery County corrections department, said Muhammad told her Wednesday that he would not eat until he received proper food.

She said he showed early signs of dehydration and would require "intravenous hydration" within 24 to 48 hours.

According to the document, warden Rob Green said Virginia authorities told him that Muhammad had threatened hunger strikes in the past when his demands regarding legal papers and food were not met.

In Montgomery, Muhammad has demanded access to all of his legal documents at the same time. The papers are stored in seven boxes, each weighing 80 pounds. Green said Muhammad was allowed to see one box at a time; the others are stored in an adjacent cell.

Green also said in the documents that Muhammad was offered a vegan diet, as he had requested. However, he said, Muhammad insisted that he determine when he would get certain foods.

Green said the jail determines the feeding schedule.