Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, an al-Qaida terrorist leader once based in South Florida, hid in northern Mexico with two other Arab militants in a border city across from Douglas, Arizona, in 2004, newly released State Department cables say.
One of the cables noted that the information about Shukrijumah, killed in Pakistan in 2014, came from a trusted confidential source who had a relative involved in migrant smuggling.
“An individual approached the Ciudad Juárez Consulate to provide information pertaining to suspect Arab extremists who have been smuggled through Mexico to the United States/Mexico border,” according to a declassified cable from the U.S. consul in Ciudad Juárez to the secretary of state in September 2004. “Although not absolutely positive, one of the three is likely Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, alleged to be a Saudi Arabian terrorist cell leader thought to be in Mexico.”
Though sightings of Shukrijumah in Mexico had surfaced before, the 2004 cable is the first documentary evidence that American officials had information about the terror leader’s alleged presence near the border. The cable said the Arabs were “being hidden” in Agua Prieta, a city in the Mexican state of Sonora located across from Douglas.
The cables, obtained by Judicial Watch Inc., add new detail to the movements of Shukrijumah, who eluded capture or assassination until Pakistani soldiers killed him in December 2014 in a mountainous tribal area known as South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan.
Judicial Watch is a conservative, nonpartisan organization that seeks transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law, according to its website.
In the case of the Shukrijumah cables, they suggest that the federal government was wrong to deny that Islamic militants may have tried to cross the porous Mexican border to conduct operations in the United States.
“There is no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an active plot by ISIL to attempt to cross the southern border,” Homeland Security officials said in a statement to The New York Times in 2014.
The Shukrijumah case has attracted wide attention since the 9/11 Commission in 2004 published a report quoting an immigration officer as saying that she was “75 percent sure” she saw the Miramar resident with hijack leader Mohamed Atta and another man at the immigration office in Miami on May 2, 2001 — four months before the plane attacks. Atta piloted the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. The second man with Atta, the commission report said, was possibly Ziad Jarrah, the pilot who crashed his plane into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers rebelled and tried to storm the cockpit to recover control of the aircraft.
The possible presence of Shukrijumah with the 9/11 pilots stirred speculation that the terror leaders received assistance from U.S.-based militants while they plotted the attacks.
Precisely when Shukrijumah left his home in Miramar, where he lived with his mother, Zuhra, is not known. His mother has said her son left for Trinidad in January 2001 and never returned. But his father told journalists before his death in 2004 that he last saw his son in May 2001, the same month he was possibly at the INS office on 79th Street in Miami. The FBI has said Shukrijumah left the country just weeks before the attacks.
In a brief interview Wednesday at the door of her house, Shukrijumah’s mother told el Nuevo Herald that the last time she heard directly from her son was in 2001.
“I never heard from him after that,” she said Wednesday. “Nothing. Nothing,”
She said she was not aware of the newly released cables placing her son in northern Mexico.
“I never watch the news,” she said.
Panamanian government officials have said that Shukrijumah visited Panama City in April 2001 on a tourist visa.
Two months after the 9/11 attacks, Zuhra previously has said, her son called from Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean where he lived for five years with his parents in the 1980s.
His father later said that the last time he heard from Shukrijumah was in October 2002 when he was teaching English in Morocco.
Two years later, U.S. officials received reports of a sighting of Shukrijumah in Honduras and then in northern Mexico. In 2004, the FBI issued an alert for the Mexican border that Shukrijumah could try to enter the United States through Arizona or Texas.
The cable, obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, details how the U.S. government received the tip about Shukrijumah in northern Mexico.
The cable says: “An individual approached the Ciudad Juárez consulate to provide information pertaining to suspect Arab extremists who have been smuggled through Mexico to the United States/Mexico border. The confidential source (SUBJECT) stated his family member, who is a human trafficker, knows the exact whereabouts of three Arabs who are currently being hidden in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Although not absolutely positive, one of the three is likely Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, alleged to be a Saudi Arabian terrorist cell leader thought to be in Mexico. SUBJECT also provided information on two smuggling networks, ‘cells’ that specialized in providing logistical support for Arab individuals attempting to enter the United States.”
Elsewhere in the same cable, the writer notes that American diplomats, at the FBI’s request, had advised media in northern Mexico about the possible presence of Shukrijumah in Sonora and Chihuahua states.
The Ciudad Juárez consulate’s regional security office approached newspapers to distribute information throughout Sonora and Chihuahua about Shukrijumah at the request of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in El Paso, the cable says. El Paso is across the border from Ciudad Juárez, a city in Chihuahua state.
Though Judicial Watch previously has quoted law enforcement sources as saying Shukrijumah crossed back and forth into the United States from Mexico, there have been no official confirmed sightings of the man inside the country since 2001.
Nevertheless, U.S. prosecutors did charge Shukrijumah in connection with a plot to stage suicide bomb attacks on the New York subway system in 2009.
A federal indictment said Shukrijumah was in Pakistan where planning for the attacks took place in 2008. The indictment, unsealed in July 2010, described Shukrijumah as a leader of al-Qaida’s external operations program dedicated to planning and conducting terror attacks in the United States and other western countries.
Alfonso Chardy: 305-376-3435, @AlfonsoChardy