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9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, who returned to his native Saudi Arabia after a previous stay in the US (see October 3, 1991-February 1992), now arrives in the US for the second time, and will spend much of the next three years in the country. Hanjour first stays in Miramar, Florida with a couple that are longtime friends with Abulrahman Hanjour, his eldest brother: Adnan Khalil, a Saudi professor at a local college, and his wife Susan. Susan Khalil later remembers Hani Hanjour as socially inept, with “really bad hygiene.” She says, “Of all my husband’s colorful friends, he was probably the most nondescript. He would blend into the wall.” The Washington Post later reports: “Hanjour’s meek, introverted manner fits a recurrent pattern in the al-Qaeda network of unsophisticated young men being recruited as helpers in terrorist attacks. FBI agents have told people they have interviewed about Hanjour that he ‘fit the personality to be manipulated and brainwashed.’” Yet, Susan Khalil says, “I didn’t get the feeling that he hated me or hated Americans.” Hanjour, she says, “was very kind and gentle to my son, who was 3 years old.” He prays frequently, at their home and at a nearby mosque. After staying for about a month he leaves the Khalil’s, having been accepted at a flight school in California (see April 30-Early September 1996). (Crary 9/21/2001; Allison 10/2/2001; Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 226) Many of the hijackers will later live in this part of Florida. A nearby mosque is run by radical imam Gulshair Shukrijumah, who possibly associates with Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000-2001 and May 2, 2001). (Canedy and Lichtblau 3/22/2003)
The Congressional Joint Inquiry will later find that several of the hijackers, including Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, attend mosques in the US and that at least one of the mosques is in Florida. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ) The Florida mosque attended by Atta and Alshehhi is the Al Hijrah mosque run by Gulshair Shukrijumah in Miramar, Broward County, Florida. Mohamed Atta and several other hijackers live near the mosque (see April 11, 2001) and train at nearby Opa-Locka airport (see December 29-31, 2000). After 9/11, the FBI will visit the mosque and ask Shukrijumah and his wife if they recognize the hijackers and if their son, Adnan, knew Atta or had mentioned trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Strouse 4/3/2003; Meyer 9/3/2006) Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, in 2001 (see May 2, 2001). His father previously served as an imam at the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. In addition to working as a translator for Sheikh Abdul-Rahman, he also testified as a character witness at the WTC bombing trial for one of the defendants, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, who attended Al Farouq. (Kaufman and Rabinowitz 10/27/2003; Meyer 9/3/2006) Gulshair Shukrijumah is receiving money from the Saudi embassy in Washington at this time. (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/7/2003) In 2009, an FBI informant will claim that he tried to get close to both Atta and Adnan Shukrijumah at the Al Hijrah mosque in early 2001, but the FBI had him work on easier cases instead, because both of them were secretive and wary (see Early 2001). (Ross and Walter 9/10/2009) The army’s Able Danger data mining program identifies Atta as a member of an al-Qaeda cell centered on Brooklyn. Exactly how it does this is never disclosed, although Atta’s apparent association with Gulshair and Adnan Shukrijumah is one possibile explanation (see January-February 2000).
Elie Assaad is working as an undercover operative for the FBI, and he is sent to infiltrate the Al Hijrah mosque in Miramar, outside of Miami, Florida. Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who lives nearby at the time, frequents the mosque with Adnan Shukrijumah (see 2000-2001). Several years after 9/11, the US will call Shukrijumah an important al-Qaeda operative and will put out a $5 million reward for him. Assaad will later claim, “There was something wrong with these guys.” The small mosque is run by Adnan’s father, Gulshair Shukrijumah, who previously worked as a translator for Sheikh Abdul-Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh,” who was convicted of a role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Assaad is posing as a personal representative of Osama bin Laden under the name “Mohammed.” He will later claim that Adnan invites him to meet him at his home, but the FBI tells him to stay away, because Atta and his associates are suspicious and secretive. Instead, Assaad’s FBI handlers assign him to go after easier targets: two “wannabe terrorists” whose cases are easy to solve (see November 2000-Spring 2002). Both targets are eventually convicted and sent to prison. After 9/11, Assaad will continue to work as an undercover operative for the FBI, and his work will be praised in 2006 by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. But others will criticize the cases he is involved in as entrapment against mostly harmless targets. ABC News will report on Assaad’s story after he retires from government work in 2009. In response, the FBI will issue a statement, saying, “The claims made in the news report and the factual conclusions contained in the story are not supported by the evidence.” The FBI will not specify which claims or conclusions it is referring to, and much of the story is a critique of post-9/11 FBI undercover stings in general. Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, working as an ABC News consultant, will call the case “yet another example of the way the system broke down prior to 9/11. If the system had worked, we might have been able to identify these people before the attacks.” (Ross and Walter 9/10/2009) It appears that the FBI is interested in Adnan Shukrijumah in two different cases around this time, but is unable to get close to him (see (Spring 2001)). In one case, an involved informant is known as “Mohamed,” which may well be Assaad using his alias “Mohammed.” A story on that case will suggest that Shukrijumah had a strong suspicion that “Mohamed” was a government informant (see April-May 2001).
Suspect Adnan Shukrijumah is able to escape the US despite growing evidence of his involvement with al-Qaeda and even his connection with some 9/11 hijackers. Shukrijumah lives in Miramar, Florida, and neighbors claim to have seen him as recently as March 15 and 16, 2003. For instance, one neighbor, Orville Campbell, says he saw Shukrijumah at a neighborhood barbeque on the afternoon of March 16. On March 20, just four days later, the FBI announces a $5 million reward for Shukrijumah, after he apparently has left the country (see March 21, 2003 and After). Just after the announcement, the New York Times reports, “Residents of Miramar, Fla., said a man who appeared to be Mr. Shukrijumah was living there as recently as last weekend.” (Shenon and Lichtblau 3/21/2003) It is unclear why Shukrijumah was not monitored closely enough to prevent him leaving the US. CNN reports that Shukrijumah’s name first came up in documents recovered after 9/11 associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh was arrested in Pakistan in September 2002. Additionally, his name came up again in documents seized in early March 2003 when 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan. Those documents referred to him as someone who would carry out a suicide attack. Additionally, by March 19, Mohammed identified him as one of his deputies. (Arena and Bohn 3/22/2003; Ragavan 3/30/2003) But those were hardly the first times US intelligence saw a link between Shukrijumah and al-Qaeda.
His father, Gulshair Shukrijumah, was the imam of a Florida mosque, and appears to have been under suspicion before 9/11 because of his links to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and others convicted of roles in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (2000-2001).
From November 2000 to the spring of 2002, the FBI in Florida investigated a group of Muslims it suspected of being terrorists, including Adnan Shukrijumah. Two members of the group were arrested in May 2002 and later found guilty and given prison sentences (see November 2000-Spring 2002). In April and May 2001, the focus was on Shukrijumah, but he was careful and the FBI was only able to prove that he lied on his green card application regarding a prior arrest (see April-May 2001).
An FBI informant, Elie Assaad, infiltrated the mosque run by Adnan’s father in early 2001, and grew suspicious of Adnan and his friend, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. However, his FBI handlers assigned him easier targets instead (see Early 2001). Assaad claims that shortly after 9/11, he grew very upset after he realized that Atta was one of the hijackers. “I curse on everybody. I destroyed half of my furniture. Uh, I went crazy.” Presumably Assaad would have told his FBI superiors about the link between Shukrijumah and Atta, if they didn’t know about it already. (Ross and Walter 9/10/2009)
It appears that 9/11 hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi attended the same small mosque as Adnan Shukrijumah and Atta. Shortly after 9/11, the FBI visited the mosque and asked Adnan’s parents if they recognized any of the hijackers and if Adnan knew Atta or had mentioned trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan (see 2000-2001).
In the spring of 2001, the FBI also investigated Shukrijumah in connection with another Florida-based Islamist militant group. While the FBI developed evidence against others in the group, Shukrijumah kept his distance from the main plotters and he could not be linked to their plans (see (Spring 2001)).
Shukrijumah was also seen going to the Miami District Immigration Office with Atta and one other man, who may have been 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah (see May 2, 2001).
One article published in March 2003, shortly after the announcement of the reward money to find Shukrijumah, claims that in the months after 9/11, US agents went to his parents’ Florida home six times to ask about him, but he was never there. Furthermore, his parents claimed he had been gone since before 9/11 and rarely called. His parents also claim he is innocent of any links to Islamic militancy. (Ragavan 3/30/2003) It is unclear if the neighbors who knew Shukrijumah were mistaken that he was still in Florida well after 9/11, or if he was able to stay in the US for a long time without the FBI finding him.
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