A top al-Qaida operative shot dead in a weekend raid by the Pakistan army was a key figure in the FBI’s Sarasota investigation of a Saudi couple who declassified FBI documents say had “many connections” to the 9/11 hijackers.
Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a former Miramar resident who attended Broward College in the late 1990s, was killed early Saturday in a helicopter gunship assault on a hideout in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan near Afghanistan.
Described by authorities as al-Qaida’s chief of global operations, Saudi-born Shukrijumah was a fugitive from a 2010 federal indictment in New York for his alleged role in plots to attack New York City’s subway system and London’s Underground. The charges included conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
At the time of his death, the United States was offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Shukrijumah’s capture.
BrowardBulldog.org, working with Irish journalists and authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, first reported in September 2011 that Shukrijumah was among a number of terrorist figures identified by the FBI as having visited the Sarasota area home of Abdulazziz alHijji and his wife, Anoud, prior to Sept. 11, 2001, according to a law enforcement source.
They included 9/11 hijack pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan alShehhi, who were at the controls of the passenger jets that slammed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, and Ziad Jarrrah, who crashed another jetliner into a Pennsylvania field. Also allegedly at the residence was Walid alShehri, who flew with Atta and three other hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11.
TIE TO ROYALS
The Hijjis came under FBI scrutiny after neighbors had reported that the family abruptly moved out of their home under suspicious circumstances about two weeks before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The owner of the home at 4224 Escondito Circle was Anoud alHijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a member of the Saudi royal family.
The existence of the FBI’s investigation of the Hijjis was never disclosed to Congress or the 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chairman of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the attacks.
When the matter finally became public in 2011, FBI officials in Tampa and Miami acknowledged the investigation, but said it had turned up no connection to 9/11 — statements later contradicted by a handful of FBI records made public in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by BrowardBulldog.org.
A Fort Lauderdale federal judge is currently reviewing for possible public release more than 80,000 additional pages of classified 9/11 records he ordered the FBI to produce for his inspection last spring.
Graham said Monday that Shukrijumah’s death forecloses one avenue for learning more about what went on in Sarasota prior to 9/11.
“This is another price we’re paying by delaying full disclosure of what happened before and after 9/11,” Graham said.
While the 9/11 Commission found nothing to firmly connect Shukrijumah to the Sept. 11 plot, it did note he was a “well-connected al-Qaida operative” known as “Jafar the Pilot” and that he apparently accompanied Atta on a May 2, 2001, visit to the Miami District Immigration Office. Also present that day was a third man, who the commission concluded was United 93 hijack pilot Jarrah, for whom Atta was seeking a visa extension.
‘75 PERCENT SURE’
An immigration inspector who dealt with the trio readily remembered Atta when interviewed later. And after looking at Shukrijumah’s Most Wanted photo, she told authorities that “she was ‘75 percent sure’ that she could identify the man who was with Atta as Shukrijumah.”
A report by the commission staff, titled “9/11 and Terrorist Travel,” also noted that “Shukrijumah’s father is a well-known imam in South Florida, having testified on behalf of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman during his trial for the conspiracy to destroy New York landmarks” in 1995. Rahman, known as the “blind sheikh,” is serving a life sentence.
Gulshair Shukrijumah, once a prayer leader at a Brooklyn mosque where Rahman preached, moved his family to Miramar in the mid-1990s and became a religious leader at the Masjid al Hijra. He died in 2004.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org using Florida’s public records law also tie Shukrijumah to Hijji and pre-9/11 events in Sarasota.
Wissam Hammoud, identified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as an “international terrorist associate,” told an FBI agent and a Sarasota County Sheriff’s detective in April 2004 that Hijji introduced him to his “friend” Shukrijumah at a soccer game at a Sarasota mosque in 2000 or 2001.
Hammoud also told the agents that Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero” and may have known some of the 9/11 hijackers, the records say.
Hammoud is currently serving 21 years in prison after his 2005 guilty plea in Tampa to federal weapons violations and attempting to kill a federal agent and a witness. He reaffirmed his previous statements to the FBI in 2012 interviews. His wife and sister-in-law also corroborated Hammoud’s account.
Hijji, who in 2012 lived in London where he worked for Aramco Overseas — the European subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company — told the Daily Telegraph then that Hammoud was his friend, but strongly denied any involvement in the 9/11 plot.
“I have neither relation nor association with any of those bad people/criminals and the awful crime they did. 9/11 is a crime against the USA and all humankind, and I’m very saddened and oppressed by these false allegations,” Hijji said by email. “I love the USA, my kids were born there, I went to college and university there, I spent a good time of my life there and I love it.”
‘DOESN’T RING A BELL’
In a brief interview outside his office, Hijji also said he did not know Shukrijumah. “The name doesn’t ring a bell,” he said.
The FDLE previously declined to release its file on Shukrijumah, a citizen of Guyana.
Shukrijumah’s movements around the time of 9/11 are unclear. The Miami Herald reported in 2011 that the FBI said he had left the country in the weeks before 9/11. ABC News reported a decade ago that the FBI said Shukrijumah was in the United States until shortly after 9/11.
Whatever the truth, Shukrijumah appears to have quickly risen through the ranks of al-Qaida, eventually assuming a position that NBC News reported was once held by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Pakistani forces caught up with Shukrijumah early Saturday in Wazikiristan, a region that was a key Taliban stronghold in Pakistan.
A military official told the London Daily Mirror that security forces first heard that Chinese hostages were held at the location where the assault took place, learning only later about Shukrijumah’s presence and planning a larger operation.
The Mirror reported that two intelligence officers said militants opened fire on the Pakistani military and Shukrijumah was killed in the ensuing gun battle. Shukrijumah’s wife and four children were reportedly taken into custody.
One soldier was killed and another wounded, the Mirror reported.