Israeli Prime Minister

Resigns From Likud Party

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon resigned from the Likud Party he helped build into one of Israel's most influential political movements, setting in motion events that could lead to spring elections and a far-reaching realignment of Israel's fractious political system.

By Monday evening, 13 of Likud's 40 members of parliament had joined Sharon in a new centrist party, tentatively named National Responsibility. A number of them gathered to listen to Sharon, who outlined a political program focused on the United States-backed peace plan known as the "road map," and tackling Israel's rising crime and poverty rates.

Likud flourished with Sharon as one of its leaders as a proponent of the idea of a Greater Israel that encouraged Jewish settlement of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, seized in the 1967 Middle East war. Sharon went against Likud doctrine in the evacuation of settlements and soldiers from the Gaza Strip earlier this year, and his departure now reflects the sentiments of an Israeli electorate that favors a resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians even if it means further territorial concessions. With the Gaza evacuation, the key question turns to whether to yield additional land in the West Bank that could be part of a future Palestinian state.

-- Scott Wilson

Man Convicted of Plotting

To Kill Bush; Padilla Indicted

A federal jury convicted a Falls Church man of plotting to kill President Bush, concluding that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali joined an al Qaeda conspiracy to mount a series of Sept. 11-style attacks and assassinations in the United States.

And Jose Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber" who has been at the center of fierce legal and political struggles for more than three years, has been indicted on charges that he conspired to murder individuals overseas and provide support for terrorists.

The trial of Abu Ali in U.S. District Court in Alexandria was the first in an American criminal courtroom to rely so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service. Security officers from Saudi Arabia, where Abu Ali was jailed for 20 months, provided the bulk of the government's case.

Jurors convicted Abu Ali, 24, on all nine counts against him, including conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy and providing material support to al Qaeda. He will face 20 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 17.

The indictment of Padilla abruptly moves his case out of the shadows of his confinement in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina, where the Brooklyn-born former gang member has been held since President Bush declared him an enemy combatant in 2002.

The Bush administration hopes that the indictment, handed up in Miami and unsealed Tuesday, will effectively derail the possibility of an adverse ruling from the Supreme Court, which could decide to limit the government's ability to detain U.S. citizens as enemy combatants.

-- Dan Eggen and Jerry Markon

Abramoff Partner Pleads Guilty

In Probe of Former Lobbyist

A onetime congressional staffer who became a top partner to lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials and agreed to pay back more than $19 million he fraudulently charged Indian tribal clients.

Scanlon, a former public relations executive who was once press secretary to then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but the penalty could be reduced depending on the level of his cooperation with prosecutors. His help is expected to be crucial to the Justice Department's Abramoff investigation, which began early last year after the revelation that Scanlon and the lobbyist took in millions of dollars from Indian tribes unaware of their secret partnership to jack up fees and split profits.

Investigators are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Capitol Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

-- James V. Grimaldi

and Susan Schmidt