Most Wanted: The Next Atta?

The FBI Search For El-Shukrijumah

On the day after America went to war in Iraq, the FBI put out a bulletin that, as CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports for 60 Minutes II, reminds us the war on terrorism is far from finished.

FBI agents are desperately looking for a man they say could be the next Mohammad Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers. Like many other al Qaeda members, they say this man was born in Saudi Arabia, attended terrorist camps in Afghanistan and is an expert in explosives.

But, unlike others, he is believed to have been tutored by some of the best minds in al Qaeda. And what makes him really dangerous, the FBI believes, is that he lived in America for several years, which now makes him one of the bureau's most wanted men in the world.

His name is Adnan El-Shukrijumah, a 27-year-old Saudi Muslim who, the FBI fears, has been anointed the head of a new cell with orders to attack targets inside the United States. Pat D'Amuro is the head of counter terrorism for the FBI and the man who decided to ring the alarm bell.

Of all the suspected al Qaeda operatives out there, where does El-Shukrijumah fit on the FBI's scale?

Says D;Amuro, "This individual would rate in the top five with respect to protection of the homeland... I would say, for domestic reasons, within the continental United States, this individual is very important for the FBI to find."

In fact, he could be the bureau's worst nightmare: a bright, budding new cell leader, they believe, who has lived in the U.S. long enough to use his knowledge of the country to blend in and attack, even as America is preoccupied with the war in Iraq.

"We believe that the targets that he would be affiliated with, domestically, here in the United States, could be fuel tankers, apartment buildings, transportation hubs," explains D'Amuro.

Stewart went to Adnan's home in Florida to meet his family. His father, Gulshair, and his brother, Nabil, say Adnan left home some months before Sept. 11 and that he isn't guilty of anything. Nevertheless, the FBI has visited six times since the 2001 terrorist attack.

The first time, the FBI went to his family and told them of their suspicions about Adnan. How did the family respond?

"I tell you, I do not believe that. I do not believe that, because I know my son was not a violent individual," says his father. "I always advised him to do unto others as you would have others do unto you, because it's the main principle to live in society."

The FBI says lately it's hearing El-Shukrijumah's name all around the terrorist network it monitors. It prompted them to issue what is called a national BOLO (Be On the LookOut).

Dale Watson, a former FBI counter terrorism chief, said that shows just how nervous the bureau is about this man.

But if there's a mystery about where he is, there's no question about who he is. Adnan El-Shukrijumah moved to the United States from Saudi Arabia with his family in 1995, eventually settling in Miramar, Fla. He attended a community college and majored in computers, but developed other interests as well, eventually making friends with Imran Mandhai, who was convicted in 2002 of plotting to blow up power plants, among other things.

In what sorts of incidents was he allegedly involved?

"Some facilities in south Florida. I think Mount Rushmore - I think, was one of the allegations," recalls Watson.

As terrorist plots go, this one's targets may have been monumental, but the planning was infantile. The FBI quickly busted the small ring and although El-Shukrijumah's was never caught in the plot, it did gain him a place on the FBI's terrorist watch list

Then came 9/11 and the Afghanistan campaign. That's where El-Shukrijumah surfaced again in so-called "pocket litter," documents and scraps taken from prisoners and dead al Qaeda.

Then there were the geographical coincidences. Hani Hanjour, the hijacker who flew the plane into the Pentagon had stayed just three miles down the road from the family. A flight school used by two of the hijackers wasn't far away. And Jose Padilla, a man suspected of plotting to set off a dirty radiological bomb, had attended a mosque El-Shukrijumah visited.

But the family says coincidence does not make a case, and that Adnan has been a productive member of society.

But the FBI believes this: that El-Shukrijumah has already trained in the camps in Afghanistan and is known by some of the most notorious members of al Qaeda: men like Ramzi bin-Al Shib, who allegedly helped plan the 9/11 attacks and was captured last year in Pakistan.

Even more significant, investigators say El-Shukrijumah has now been fingered by captured terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, said to be the brains behind al Qaeda and the right-hand man of Osama bin Laden.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammad is the man who would not only carry out the dreams and wishes and plans of Osama bin Laden, but he knew the players. He knew the individual cell leaders. In fact, he often picked them out. Is that why Watson would think that anybody he'd know would ordinarily be a pretty bad character?

"He's not going to identify a list of Boy Scout members in Kansas City. To answer your question: absolutely," Watson replies. "Anything he says, and any information obtained from him, directly from him or indirectly, is very crucial to look at and determine if, in fact, they are tied in with that organization."

And that will get you the kind of alert the FBI issued nearly a week ago. Family members say they don't know where Adnan is but last spoke with him by phone five months ago.

As Stewart put the question to Adnan's father: "You know, many people might ask…'Is it possible that the child that you fed and burped and raised and held as your son has changed, too, over the years, and you just might not know it?'"

"It could be," says Gulshair. "My son, I would not say he was an angel and he cannot change."

Could he change into something that you would not recognize now?

"It could be," his father repeats. "But I don't believe he would change and be a terrorist."

He did not raise him that way?

"No, I didn't raise him that way."

Veterans of the war on terrorism say they have heard all that before. No one, they believe, really knows what lies in a man's heart. And to find out, they intend to find him.
  • Ellen Crean

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