Nearly two years after Pakistan’s army said it killed fugitive terrorist leader and ex-Broward resident Adnan El Shukrijumah, the FBI still hasn’t verified his death. But recent news reports say al Qaeda recently claimed that Shukrijumah’s widow was one of three women released by Pakistan in exchange for the son of the country’s former army chief.
The other women reportedly handed over to al Qaeda in the exchange were the adult daughters of Ayman al Zawahiri, who took over as leader after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011.
The Long War Journal, a project of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, first reported the story Sept. 2. Al Qaeda’s unverified claims about the exchange were made in late August in Al Masra, a magazine published by an organization linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. State Department had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Shukrijumah, chief of al Qaeda’s North American operations, before the 39-year-old former Miramar resident was reported slain during a helicopter gunship assault on a hideout in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan on Dec. 6, 2014. Shukrijumah’s widow and four children were reportedly taken into custody following a gun battle.
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The reward has since been canceled, but the FBI continues to list Shukrijumah as one of its “Most Wanted Terrorists.”
“The United States Government has not yet confirmed the death of El Shukrijumah,” the FBI said in a statement released to Florida Bulldog. “He will remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List until the time a confirmation is made. The confirmation process, which is international in scope and quite involved, remains ongoing. Therefore, the FBI will not comment on it.”
Shukrijumah, indicted in 2010 for his alleged role in plots to attack New York City’s subway system and London’s Underground, was a key figure in the FBI’s Sarasota investigation of a Saudi couple, Abdulazziz and Anoud al-Hijji, that declassified FBI documents say had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The couple came to the FBI’s attention after neighbors reported they’d moved abruptly out of their home and returned to Saudi Arabia about two weeks before the attacks — leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture and other personal items.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports obtained by Florida Bulldog say that Wissam Hammoud, a terrorist associate imprisoned on unrelated charges, told the FBI in 2004 that Abdulazziz al-Hijji introduced him to Shukrijumah at a soccer game at the property of the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton in 2000 or 2001.
The Long War Journal and the Hindustan Times reported that al Qaeda sources first announced the release of the three women in early August. At the time, no mention of an exchange was made, but The Journal added, “Independent accounts indicate the global jihadist organization had been trying to secure their release in exchange for the kidnapped sons of Pakistan’s elite.”
The Journal said Al Masra identified Shukrijumah’s widow as Sumaiya Murjan Salem. She was identified as the daughter of the late Sheikh Murjan Salem al Jawhari. In an interview, Journal reporter Thomas Joscelyn described Salem al Jawhari as a “Zawahiri loyalist, a guy who was prominent in ideological circles.”
Shukrijumah’s widow and Zawahiri’s daughters, and their children were reportedly sent to Egypt. Al Qaeda’s boss, 65, was born in Egypt.
The Journal reported that al Qaeda claimed the women were released in exchange for the son of Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who stepped down as army chief in 2013. Before that, he headed Pakistan’s Directorate General for Inter-Services Intelligence.
The Indian Express later cited unnamed “Pakistani military sources” as denying that there was a swap for the younger Kayani, but said the sources conceded that the women were exchanged for the son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Ali Haider Gilani, however, was rescued in a joint U.S.-Afghan raid in May.
The Journal reported that As Sahab, “a propaganda arm for al Qaeda’s senior leadership,” had released a threat in mid-July about the “treacherous” Pakistani army’s detention of the women. It identified Umaymah al Zawahiri and Fatima al Zawahiri, both in their mid-30s, as the wives of dead al Qaeda commanders. Sumaiya Salem was listed as Shukrijumah’s widow.
“Al Qaeda accused the Pakistanis of holding the three women and their children on the ‘orders of American intelligence’ since 2014,” the Journal story said. “The jihadists claimed at the time that the negotiations to free them had ‘failed.’ Al Qaeda said it would hold the Pakistani government and its ‘American masters’ responsible.”
“On Aug. 5, al Qaeda’s social media channels lit up with news that Zawahiri’s daughters and Shukrijumah’s widow had been released,” the story said.
Florida Bulldog is a not-for-profit news organization created to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. Contributions are tax-deductible. www.floridabulldog.org