A key al Qaeda terrorism suspect was in Canada looking for nuclear material for a “dirty bomb,” The Washington Times has learned.
Adnan El Shukrijumah is being sought by the FBI and CIA in connection with a plot to detonate a dirty bomb — a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material.
According to an FBI informant, El Shukrijumah was spotted last year in Hamilton, Ontario, posing as a student at McMaster University, which has a 5-megawatt research reactor. U.S. officials believe El Shukrijumah, whose photograph was posted on the FBI’s Web site in March, was in Hamilton trying to obtain radioactive material.
One U.S. official said El Shukrijumah is a key North American al Qaeda member who is useful to other Middle Eastern members of the terrorist group because of his knowledge of the United States and his ability to speak English.
El Shukrijumah was identified by the informant after his photograph was made public by the FBI in March. He is believed to be part of an al Qaeda cell in Canada and the United States that was planning a dirty-bomb attack. The status of the bomb plot is not known.
Spokesmen for the FBI, CIA, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police declined to comment on El Shukrijumah’s stay in Canada.
Jane Johnson, a spokeswoman for McMaster University, declined to comment on whether El Shukrijumah was ever a student at the school. She said such information is confidential.
A Homeland Security Department official said earlier this week that recent information indicates al Qaeda is continuing to plan attacks, including strikes within the United States.
“We have received a lot of good information from these detainees over the past several weeks and corroborated the fact there were active plans, ongoing, to conduct another attack in the United States,” William H. Parrish, an intelligence official with the department, told the Associated Press.
“This attack, as they indicated, was probably going to be multiple attacks — simultaneous,” he said.
Another U.S. official said al Qaeda could strike targets in several places, including the Persian Gulf, East Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as Europe and the United States.
In addition to El Shukrijumah, the informant said that at least three other al Qaeda terrorists were seen in Hamilton in 2002. They include Anas al-Liby, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, Jaber A. Elbaneh and Amer El-Maati.
Al-Liby has been linked by U.S. authorities to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
El Shukrijumah and El-Maati are being sought for questioning by the FBI in connection with terrorist threats against the United States, according to the bureau’s counterterrorism Web site.
Elbaneh is wanted by the FBI as part of a federal criminal complaint made public in May on charges of providing support to al Qaeda as part of a terrorist cell near Buffalo, N.Y.
FBI officials have said El Shukrijumah lived in southern Florida and was identified by captured al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He left the United States in May 2002 and is believed to be in the Middle East, one U.S. official said.
El Shukrijumah’s connection to the dirty-bomb plot is based on his stay in southern Florida at the same time as another al Qaeda suspect, Jose Padilla.
Padilla is a Muslim convert who was arrested in May 2002 in Chicago after returning from Switzerland. He was detained as an enemy combatant and transferred to U.S. military custody.
Padilla has not talked to U.S. officials, but intelligence agencies believe he and El Shukrijumah were conspirators in the bomb plot.
U.S. intelligence officials said earlier this year that al Qaeda planned to detonate a dirty bomb inside the United States, a plot directed by Mohammed.
According to the officials, the al Qaeda members were sent to North America and assigned with making the bomb from materials acquired there, rather than trying to smuggle conventional explosives and radioactive material into the United States.
The terrorists were to buy or steal radioactive material with help from people who had access to research reactors or radioactive medical waste.
El Shukrijumah was also identified from documents obtained in connection with the 2002 arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Binalshibh, a key planner of the September 11 attacks.
El Shukrijumah is believed to be a terrorist organizer similar to Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.