On March 20, 2003, the FBI released a "Be on the Lookout" alert for Adnan G. El Shukrijumah (aka Jafar al Tayyar, or Jafar "the Pilot"). In the days that followed, press outlets reported some of the details on el Shukrijumah's suspicious career. El Shukrijumah had lived in the U.S. for years, and attended a mosque in Florida where he mixed with radicals. At some point, El Shukrijumah traveled to Afghanistan where he allegedly received training in al Qaeda's camps and was groomed by senior al Qaeda leaders for future missions. Indeed, FBI and U.S. intelligence officials told the press that El Shukrijumah then came back to the U.S. with a particularly lethal purpose: to coordinate terrorist attacks on American soil after September 11, 2001.
Just days after the FBI's alert was issued, CBS News (Most Wanted: The Next Atta?) and U.S. News & World Report (A Hunt for â€˜The Pilot') published particularly interesting accounts of how El Shukrijumah was identified. The press outlets found that the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who had been captured just weeks earlier, played an instrumental role.
And the release of the Inspector General's Report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program and two other CIA analytical documents last week confirms these accounts in important ways.
The story of the intelligence that led to the FBI's alert is as follows.
In May 2002, U.S. authorities began asking al Qaeda detainees an urgent question. According to U.S. News, the officials wanted to know: "Whomâ€¦would al Qaeda pick to lead the next big attack against U.S. targets?" Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in the early hours of March 28, 2002, pointed the finger at an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who Zubaydah knew by the nom de guerre Jafar al Tayyar. Other detainees fingered Jafar as well, but Zubaydah was the first.
According to a June 3, 2005 CIA analysis ("Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al Qaeda"), Jafar al Tayyar "first came to the FBI's attention when Abu Zubaydah named him as one of the most likely individuals to be used by al Qaeda for operations in the United States or Europe." (A document previously released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence contained the same detail about Zubaydah's role.)
"Several detainees identified a man who looked like El Shukrijumah," U.S. News reported, but it was the wrong suspect. It wasn't until KSM was captured on March 1, 2003, and then interrogated, that investigators got a real break. Here is how U.S. News reported it:
Two weeks ago [in early March 2003], the search turned up a new name--and a new photograph. But investigators still were not sure. The crucial moment didn't come until Khalid Shaikh Mohammad corroborated the investigators' hunch. El Shukrijumah, he said after being shown a photograph, was Jafar the Pilot. The FBI issued its "be on the lookout" warning for El Shukrijumah.
Interestingly, the CIA's newly released July 13, 2004, analysis of KSM's importance as a source ("Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Preeminent Source on Al Qaeda") includes this corroborating nugget:
KSM has also spoken at length about operative Jafar al Tayyar, admitting that al Qaeda had tasked al Tayyar to case specific targets in New York City in 2001.
Another supporting detail may be redacted in the CIA's June 3, 2005, analysis. As mentioned above, that analysis says that Zubaydah first identified Jafar by his nom de guerre. But another al Qaeda detainee (or detainees) "provided additional details" that were "key to uncovering Jafar's true name." That detainee is almost certainly KSM.
The identification of El Shukrijumah as Jafar the Pilot led to a massive manhunt, with widespread media coverage. It may be the case that this scrutiny is what prevented El Shukrijumah from carrying out al Qaeda's bidding. Various press accounts have documented the threat El Shukrijumah posed. At a minimum, El Shukrijumah cased targets for future attacks and planned to coordinate those attacks with other al Qaeda operatives. In March 2003, Pat d'Amuro, who was then a top FBI counterterrorism official, explained: "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." D'Amuro further warned:
"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."
The story behind the FBI's March 20, 2003, alert is yet another success attributable to the interrogation of KSM and other high value al Qaeda detainees. But El Shukrijumah's story does not end there. He is reportedly at large, and carries several passports that make it possible for him to travel around the world using multiple aliases.
We are left to wonder: Where is Jafar the Pilot?