Al-Qaida Mastermind Rose Using American Hustle Adnan Shukrijumah is thought to be the highest-ranking American in al-Qaida. He is one of a growing number of Americans with key positions in al-Qaida, presenting a new challenge: terrorists who are not only familiar with the U.S., but also deeply understand it.
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Al-Qaida Mastermind Rose Using American Hustle

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Al-Qaida Mastermind Rose Using American Hustle

Al-Qaida Mastermind Rose Using American Hustle

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston traveled to Florida to trace his story.

DINA TEMPLE: It's lunchtime, and Broward College President David Armstrong tells me about the school's most infamous student.

DAVID ARMSTRONG: Well, Shukrijumah was a student here approximately 12 to 14 years ago. He was majoring in chemistry, and he was a good student.

TEMPLE: He registered under the name of Jumah El-Chukri, and until a couple of months ago, few had put together that Jumah El-Chukri, the chemistry major, and Adnan Shukrijumah, the al-Qaida operative, were one in the same.

ARMSTRONG: I've been three years. Did this come up before, Rivka? I actually don't know.

RIVKA SPIRO: I thought it was actually an urban myth.

TEMPLE: Rivka Spiro handles media for the college.

SPIRO: When I first got here, it was like, you know, people would tell me about the college. And one of my colleagues said, well, here's another thing you should know: We have, in our past, a student who is alleged to be a terrorist. Just so you know.

TEMPLE: Urban myth met reality when a Broward professor stumbled on a videotape from an old class.

ADNAN SHUKRIJUMAH: There are some way - wrong things you can in jumping a cable, but I'm going to start by showing you the right way of jump-starting a car.

TEMPLE: That's Shukrijumah in 1997, teaching classmates how to jump- start a car.

SHUKRIJUMAH: First thing, you keep your car running, which is this. With a hot battery, you keep your car running, and don't shut it off.

TEMPLE: The video emerged as a crucial piece of evidence in a plot to bomb transportation targets around New York City. As it turns out, the suspect in the case, a long-time American resident named Najibullah Zazi, said he'd been sent to the U.S. to launch an attack by an American al-Qaida operative. Zazi didn't know the operative's name. The FBI showed the videotape of the student explaining how to jump-start a car. Zazi recognized Shukrijumah.

JOSEPH BILLY: I'm Joseph Billy, Jr., former assistant director of the terrorism division, FBI headquarters, Washington, D.C.

TEMPLE: Joe Billy was one of the people responsible for tracking Shukrijumah. And he says Shukrijumah understands the importance of choosing terrorists who know their targets.

BILLY: His philosophy has been, even years ago, to select and use operatives who come from the area that they hopefully intend to launch attacks against. And I think his strategies now are being employed more so than they have been in years past.

TEMPLE: Joe Billy had to follow-up on those sightings, including rumors that Shukrijumah has been in the United States.

BILLY: I don't believe he's been here. So - and if he has been here, then he has been successful at eluding and continuing to elude.

TEMPLE: Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

TEMPLE: Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

TEMPLE: Mohammed is a heavy-set man from Trinidad. He hired Adnan Shukrijumah's father as a religious instructor, and Adnan was allowed to lead prayers.

SHAFAYAT MOHAMMED: He was really a nice, well-mannered boy. I must admit that 199 percent. He was really liked by everybody.

TEMPLE: Adnan had a sense of humor, a certain charisma. Mohammed said Adnan wasn't radical or even remotely anti-American. In fact, it was just the opposite.

MOHAMMED: You could see that there was in him that desire to enjoy cars, to enjoy the American dream and the American life. So, at one point in time, maybe a couple of years or whatever after he came, you could've seen him getting into the American dream life.

TEMPLE: That's about the time in 1996 that Shukrijumah signed up for classes at Broward and started selling used cars and learning how to fix computers. He did whatever he could to hustle new jobs and make money. And then one day...

MOHAMMED: Adnan did disappear.

TEMPLE: Friends and relatives say he went to Afghanistan. That would have been in the fall of 1998 or early 1999. When he came back, Shafayat Mohammed says Adnan was different.

MOHAMMED: He got little more stern and little more firm and little more hard in his practices and his beliefs.

TEMPLE: Mohammed remembers after Shukrijumah returned to Florida, he would disappear for weeks at a time. Officials say the trips were scouting missions for al- Qaida.

MOHAMMED: Before 9-11, he disappeared totally, and I think that was about May month. The last we saw him around here was around May of 2001.

TEMPLE: Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, al-Qaida's American editor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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