- Aug 6, 2010Published Aug 6, 2010
Published Friday August 6, 2010
New al-Qaida leader knows U.S.
By CURT ANDERSON
Al Qaida Attack Leader
Adnan G. Shukrijumah. is seen in these artists renderings by the FBI and
made available to the Associated Press Aug. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/FBI,HO)
MIAMI (AP) - A suspected al-Qaida operative who lived for more than 15
years in the U.S. has become chief of the terror network's global operations,
the FBI says, marking the first time a leader so intimately familiar with
American society has been placed in charge of planning attacks.
Adnan Shukrijumah, 35, has taken over a position once held by 9/11
mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was captured in 2003, Miami-based FBI
counterterrorism agent Brian LeBlanc told The Associated Press in an exclusive
interview. That puts him in regular contact with al-Qaida's senior
leadership, including Osama bin Laden, LeBlanc said.
Shukrijumah (SHOOK'-ree joohm-HAH') and two other leaders were part of an
"external operations council" that designed and approved terrorism plots
and recruits, but his two counterparts were killed in U.S. drone attacks,
leaving Shukrijumah as the de facto chief and successor to Mohammed - his
"He's making operational decisions is the best way to put it," said
LeBlanc, the FBI's lead Shukrijumah investigator. "He's looking at attacking the
U.S. and other Western countries. Basically through attrition, he has
become his old boss."
The FBI has been searching for Shukrijumah since 2003. He is thought to be
the only al-Qaida leader to have once held permanent U.S. resident status,
or a green card.
Shukrijumah was named earlier this year in a federal indictment as a
conspirator in the case against three men accused of plotting suicide bomb
attacks on New York's subway system in 2009. The indictment marked the first
criminal charges against Shukrijumah, who previously had been sought only as a
Shukrijumah is also suspected of playing a role in plotting of potential
al-Qaida bomb attacks in Norway and a never-executed attack on subways in
the United Kingdom, but LeBlanc said no direct link has yet emerged. Travel
records and other evidence also indicate Shukrijumah did research and
surveillance in spring 2001 for a never-attempted plot to disrupt commerce in the
Panama Canal by sinking a freighter there, LeBlanc said.
Shukrijumah, who trained at al-Qaida's Afghanistan camps in the late
1990s, was labeled a "clear and present danger" to the U.S. in 2004 by
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for
information leading to his capture and the FBI also is releasing an
age-enhanced photo of what he may look like today.
It's natural he would focus on attacking on the U.S, LeBlanc said.
"He knows how the system works. He knows how to get a driver's license. He
knows how to get a passport," LeBlanc said.
Shukrijumah's mother, Zurah Adbu Ahmed, said Thursday on the front stoop
of her small home in suburban Miramar, Fla., that her son frequently talked
about what he considered the excesses of American society - such as alcohol
and drug abuse and women wearing skimpy clothes - but that he did not
condone violence. She also said she has not had contact with her son for several
"This boy would never do evil stuff. He is not an evil person," she said.
"He loved this country. He never had a problem with the United States."
LeBlanc said the new charges were brought after the New York subway bomb
suspects identified him to investigators as their al-Qaida superior. The New
York suspects provided other key information about his al-Qaida status.
"It was basically Adnan who convinced them to come back to the United
States and do this attack," LeBlanc said. "His ability to manipulate someone
like that and direct that, I think it speaks volumes."
Before turning to radical strains of Islam, Shukrijumah lived in Miramar
with his mother and five siblings, excelling at computer science and
chemistry courses while studying at community college. He had come to South
Florida in 1995 when his father, a Muslim cleric and missionary trained in Saudi
Arabia, decided to take a post at a Florida mosque after several years at a
mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y.
At some point in the late 1990s, according to the FBI, Shukrijumah became
convinced that he must participate in "jihad," or holy war, to fight
perceived persecution against Muslims in places like Chechnya and Bosnia.
That led to training camps in Afghanistan, where he underwent basic and
advanced training in the use of automatic weapons, explosives, battle
tactics, surveillance and camouflage.
"What's dangerous about an individual that understands the U.S. is he may
have a better sense of our security vulnerabilities and insights into how
to terrify the American people using smaller attacks for large, political
impact," said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New
America Foundation. "This increases the risk of attacks outside traditional
places we normally worry about like New York and Washington."
Shukrijumah was born in Saudi Arabia. He is a citizen of Guyana, a small
South American country where his father was born. His father died in 2004.
While still in Afghanistan, he met another young recruit - Jose Padilla,
an American citizen once suspected of plotting to set off a radioactive
"dirty bomb" and now imprisoned on a 2007 terrorism material support conviction
in Miami. At one point, according to interrogations of Padilla and other
al-Qaida detainees, Shukrijumah and Padilla were paired in a plot to fill
apartments in several high-rise apartment buildings with natural gas and blow
them up, but they had a falling out.
"They just couldn't get along. It's like two guys that could not work
together," LeBlanc said.
The FBI is still hoping to bring charges in South Florida against
Shukrijumah, but key information about him was provided by Guantanamo Bay detainees
such as Mohammed, whose use as a witness would be difficult.
"For us, it's never been a dry hole. It's always been an active
investigation and it's global in nature," LeBlanc said. "We have never stopped
Associated Press writer Adam Goldman in Washington contributed to this
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