Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The FBI continued its global manhunt yesterday for suspected terrorist Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, focusing in part on South Florida, where bureau officials met this week with members of the Arab-American community to seek assistance in the search.

El Shukrijumah, 27, is the target of a worldwide alert issued last week by the FBI, who said the Saudi national posed a serious threat to the United States and could be plotting new suicide attacks against targets here and abroad. He was last seen in late 2001 in the Miami area.

“He has been identified by senior members of the al Qaeda organization as a very, very, very serious threat to the United States interests, both here and abroad. I can’t go beyond that,” said FBI Agent Hector Pesquera, who heads the bureau’s Miami field office.

Members of the Arab-American community who met with the FBI in Miramar, Fla., where El Shukrijumah’s father lives, said they told federal authorities they would do what they could to assist the FBI in locating the suspected terrorist.

“Law enforcement thinks this is urgent, and we respect them as professionals and we have pledged our support to them,” said Parvez Ahmed, the Florida chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Mr. Ahmed and other Arab-American leaders joined with bureau officials to call on the public to “come forward and contact the FBI offices if they have any information that may be relevant.” They also asked that El Shukrijumah be afforded “his due process rights” should he be apprehended.

El Shukrijumah’s name surfaced as a potential terrorism threat during interviews by the FBI and CIA of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks arrested three weeks ago in Pakistan and detained by U.S. officials. There was no information on what specific threat El Shukrijumah posed, although authorities are checking reports he is a trained pilot.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said agents want to “locate and question” El Shukrijumah in connection with potential threats against the United States, and the bureau was “running down every lead, responding to every threat, coordinating with every partner, and doing our utmost to keep terrorists from striking back.”

El Shukrijumah carries a Guyanan passport and, authorities said, could attempt to enter the United States with a Saudi, Canadian or Trinidad and Tobago passport using a half-dozen aliases. He is described as about 5-foot-4, weighing 130 pounds, with black hair, black eyes and possibly wearing a beard. He reportedly moved to Morocco in 2001.

His role with al Qaeda has been compared by authorities with that of Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks.

Law enforcement officials have described El Shukrijumah as not only an associate of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed but of Ramzi Binalshibh, the self-professed September 11 organizer who told U.S. authorities that al Qaeda had decentralized its leadership structure.

U.S. intelligence agencies have estimated that as many as 5,000 al Qaeda members may be operating inside the United States.

Before September 11, Binalshibh was involved in planning terrorist operations and helping with the logistics of terrorist attacks, including funding operations, U.S. officials said. He also reportedly was involved in recruiting Islamic radicals to join al Qaeda.

Binalshibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are both in U.S. custody at undisclosed locations.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed reportedly told authorities that El Shukrijumah was dispatched to the United States to carry out an operation and that he may be tied to Jose Padilla, the American being held in a suspected scheme to plant a so-called “dirty bomb” in the United States.

Authorities said El Shukrijumah lived in Miramar in the 1990s at the same time as Padilla.

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