U.S. 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 Wednesday.
Current and former counterterrorism officials said top al-Qaida operative Adnan Shukrijumah met 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 terror attacks.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have named Shukrijumah in a draft terrorism indictment but 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.
Intelligence officials believe Shukrijumah is one of the top candidates to become al-Qaida's next head of external operations, the man in charge of planning attacks worldwide.
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 to a terrorism case in 2003, he already had left the country. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Intelligence officials began unraveling the subway plot last year, when U.S. intelligence intercepted an e-mail from an account that al-Qaida 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 U.S. Najibullah Zazi and two friends were arrested in September 2009 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-Qaida operative known as Ahmed, traded the e-mails with Zazi, who was frantically trying to perfect his bomb making recipe, officials said. The United States wants to bring the Pakistani man to the U.S. for trial on charges that are not yet public.
Pakistani officials also have arrested a fifth person, known as Afridi, who worked with Ahmed, officials said.
The FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn had no comment yesterday.
The meeting with Shukrijumah is among many new details officials told The Associated Press about how the men hooked up with al-Qaida. The new account provides a rare glimpse into al-Qaida's recruiting process.