US counterterrorism officials have linked one of the nation’s most wanted terrorists to last year’s thwarted plot to bomb the New York City subway system, authorities said on Wednesday.
Current and former counterterrorism officials said top al-Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah with one of the would-be suicide bombers in a plot that Attorney General Eric Holder called one of the most dangerous since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have named Shukrijumah in a draft terrorism indictment but on Wednesday the Justice Department was still discussing whether to cite his role. Some officials feared that the extra attention might hinder efforts to capture him.
Shukrijumah’s involvement shows how important the subway bombing plot was to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership.
Intelligence officials believe Shukrijumah is one of the top candidates to become al-Qaeda’s next head of external operations, the man in charge of planning attacks worldwide.
Current and former counterterrorism officials discussed the case on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it.
Shukrijumah, 34, has eluded the FBI for years. The Saudi-born terrorist studied at a community college in Florida, but when the FBI showed up to arrest him as a material witness in a terrorism case in 2003, he had already left the country. The US is offering a US$5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Intelligence officials began unraveling the subway plot last year, when US intelligence intercepted an e-mail from an account that al-Qaeda had used in a recent terrorist plot, officials said.
The e-mail discussed bomb-making techniques and was sent to an address in Denver, setting off alarms within the CIA and FBI from Islamabad to the US.
Najibullah Zazi and two friends were arrested in September before, prosecutors said, they could carry out a trio of suicide bombings in Manhattan.
Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay have pleaded guilty and admitted planning to detonate homemade bombs on the subway during rush hour. A third man, Adis Medunjanin, awaits trial.
A fourth suspect, a midlevel al-Qaeda operative known as Ahmed, traded the e-mails with Zazi, who was frantically trying to perfect his bomb making recipe, officials said.
The US wants to bring the Pakistani man to the US for trial on charges that have not yet been made public. The CIA learned valuable information about al-Qaeda and its operations from Ahmed.
Pakistani officials have also arrested a fifth person, known as Afridi, who worked with Ahmed, officials said.
The FBI and US attorney’s office in Brooklyn had no comment on Wednesday.
The meeting with Shukrijumah is among many new details officials revealed about how the men hooked up with al-Qaeda.
The new account provides a rare glimpse into al-Qaeda’s recruiting process.
The trio’s odyssey took them from their homes in Queens to the mountainous, lawless frontier in northwest Pakistan, the front line of the US war on terrorism.
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