The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a superseding indictment targeting a key Al Qaeda leader with ties to South Florida Wednesday in the ongoing prosecution of the New York City subway bombing plot. Lead conspirator Najibullah Zazi pleaded guilty to his role in February. The DOJ announcement on the new charges states:
"The superseding indictment, which was returned and unsealed today in the Eastern District of New York, charges the following defendants each with several terrorism violations: Adnan El Shukrijumah, also known as 'Hamad;' Adis Medunjanin, also known as 'Mohammad;' Abid Naseer; Tariq Ur Rehman; and a fifth defendant known as 'Ahmad,' 'Sohaib' or 'Zahid.' Each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
According to the indictment, court filings and plea proceedings in the case, the plot involving Zazi was organized by Saleh al-Somali, Rashid Rauf, and El Shukrijumah, who were then- leaders of al-Qaeda's 'external operations' program dedicated to terrorist attacks in the United States and other Western countries."
The new charges allege El-Shukrijumah is an al-Qaeda leader who recruited Zazi and others to conduct terrorist attacks against the New York subway system and other targets, including some in the United Kingdom. El-Shukrijumah is well known to American law enforcement. He has been on the FBI's "Seeking Information" list and the State Department's "Rewards for Justice Program" list for several years. The State Department list says El-Shukrijumah has been under a federal material witness warrant from the Eastern District of Virginia since March 2003.
El-Shukrijumah's nom-de-guerre is "Jaffar Al-Tayyar," or Jaffar the Pilot. When intelligence officials started questioning detainees at Guantanamo Bay about still unknown al Qaeda operatives who might carry out attacks, several gave the same answer – Jaffar al-Tayyar. It wasn't until after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's capture in 2003, and his subsequent identification of a photo of El-Shukrijumah, that investigators concluded El-Shukrijumah was a major al-Qaeda operative.
But he had been on the federal law enforcement radar screen before that. In early 2001, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Miami was investigating terror suspect Imran Mandhai. Mandhai lived near Ft. Lauderdale and attended the same mosque as El-Shukrijumah and where El-Shukrijumah's father was the imam.
Mandhai allegedly was unsuccessful in recruiting El-Shukrijumah into his terror plot. Investigators believed he was "spooked" and sensed Mandhai was being targeted by law enforcement. Mandhai and an accomplice, Shueyb Mossa Jokhan, were subsequently convicted of terror conspiracy and sentenced to lengthy prison terms after planning to bomb power stations, synagogues and military installations in South Florida.
During the Mandhai investigation, INS agents learned that El-Shukrijumah had a "green card" and had applied for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. In his application, he failed to disclose his arrest record, including a 1997 charge in Broward County for child abuse and battery under the name "Jumah Adnan Elshukri." The charge was not prosecuted, but the circumstances leading to his arrest – and the fact that he failed to disclose it - raised the suspicions of the investigating federal agents in early 2001.
The INS agents presented the matter for possible criminal prosecution on fraud charges and sought a search warrant of El-Shukrijumah's residence to look for additional evidence, including a search of his computer. But FBI officials advised prosecutors that he was not a person of importance or interest and the case never materialized. El-Shukrijumah left the United States a short time later.
The 9/11 Commission Terrorist Travel report released in August 2004 found that on May 2, 2001, Mohamed Atta visited the INS office in Miami with two other persons in an attempt to obtain a visitor visa status extension approval. The INS inspector who interviewed Atta and the others reported to the 9/11 Commission that she was "75 percent sure" one of the men who accompanied Atta was El-Shukrijumah (see footnote 114 of the report).
El-Shukrijumah remains at large.