MIAMI -- 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 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 former boss.
"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 witness.
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
"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.
said she has not had contact with her son for several years.