A top al Qaeda cell leader spotted in Mexico and Canada has been identified as an active player in a scheme to obtain radioactive materials for a so-called “dirty bomb” that could be smuggled into the United States, federal authorities said.
Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, who worshipped at the same South Florida mosque as Jose Padilla — now being held as an enemy combatant in a plot to detonate a “dirty bomb” — has attempted unsuccessfully to enter the United States using phony passports, authorities said.
The al Qaeda leader reportedly was observed last year during a trip to Canada, where authorities suspect he posed as a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. An FBI informant told authorities the terrorist leader was seeking material to build a dirty bomb — a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material.
McMaster University has a five-megawatt research reactor, whose uranium-based fuel rods come from the United States. Canadian officials have denied any security breach of the McMaster facility.
Authorities said El Shukrijumah lived in the same South Florida area as Padilla and that the two worshipped at the Darul Aloom mosque. It is not clear whether they knew each other, but authorities said their names surfaced during the interrogation of captured senior al Qaeda organizer Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of Osama bin Laden’s closest advisers.
Mohammed has been called a mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Meanwhile, a seven-count indictment unsealed yesterday in Boston accused a British man of conspiring with Richard C. Reid to use shoe bombs to blow up airplanes. Saajid Badat, 25, was charged with attempted murder and trying to destroy an aircraft. The indictment said bomb components similar to Reid’s were found at his home.
El Shukrijumah, for whom the State Department has offered a $5 million reward, is being sought for questioning by the FBI in connection with terrorist threats against the United States. He was named in a March 2003 material-witness arrest warrant by prosecutors in Northern Virginia, where U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said he is sought as a potential terrorism threat.
Known to law enforcement officials as the “diminutive terrorist” because of his 5-foot-4-inch stature, El Shukrijumah also is believed by authorities to have met with alien smugglers in Mexico and Honduras, seeking help in bringing al Qaeda members illegally into the United States.
Authorities said those meetings involved members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, which U.S. immigration officials said has smuggled hundreds of Central and South Americans — mostly gang members — into the United States.
They said El Shukrijumah was spotted in July in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, meeting with leaders of the gang, which has been tied to alien, drug and weapons smuggling, along with numerous killings, robberies, burglaries, carjackings, extortions, rapes and aggravated assaults — including at least seven killings in Virginia.
Padilla, a Muslim convert also known as Abdullah al Muhajir, was arrested by FBI agents on a material witness warrant in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a flight from Pakistan. He was carrying $10,000 in U.S. currency from his al Qaeda handlers.
El Shukrijumah also was friends in Florida with Imran Mandhai, one of two college students convicted of conspiring unsuccessfully to bomb electrical stations, a National Guard armory, Jewish businesses and Mount Rushmore.
Authorities said El Shukrijumah also is believed to have taken part in or directed surveillance efforts by al Qaeda members of the financial districts in New York — which led this summer to an increase in the terror alert level from Code Yellow to Code Orange in New York City, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J.
They said there were specific threats against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in the District, the Prudential Building in Newark, and Citigroup and the Stock Exchange in New York City.
An FBI bulletin in March said El Shukrijumah was born in Saudi Arabia, although the Saudi government has denied that he is a Saudi citizen.