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Profile: Elie Assaad
Elie Assaad was a participant or observer in the following events:
Elie Assaad. [Source: ABC News]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.” [ABC News, 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).
While monitoring a plot to blow up Mount Rushmore and carry out other attacks (see November 2000-Spring 2002), the Florida FBI investigates Adnan Shukrijumah, an apparent associate of Mohamed Atta (see May 2, 2001). Imran Mandhai is a leader of the Mount Rushmore plot, and he attends the same mosque in the greater Miami area that Shukrijamah does. Mandhai tries to recruit him for the plot. However, Shukrijumah declines and never says anything incriminating within earshot of undercover surveillance teams or an FBI informer using the alias Mohamed who has gotten close to Mandhai. The FBI investigates Shukrijumah anyway, but only finds that he lied on his green card application regarding a prior arrest. The Florida FBI is apparently unaware of his connection to the 9/11 hijackers. An investigator on the case will tell USA Today, “Shukrijumah sensed what Mandhai did not: that ‘Mohamed’ was an FBI informant.” After 9/11 the FBI will give Mandhai a lie detector test and ask him if he knew any of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks. He says he did not, but his answer is judged to be false, and he confesses he was thinking of Shukrijumah. The FBI is also investigating Shukrijumah over another plot at this time (see (Spring 2001)). Shukrijumah apparently disappears from the Miami area around the time Mandhai and Jokhan are first interviewed by the FBI. He then travels around North America (see July-September 2001). [Miami Herald, 3/31/2003; US News and World Report, 4/7/2003; USA Today, 6/15/2003; ABC News, 9/10/2009] The FBI will later find that Shukrijumah is a top al-Qaeda operative and offer a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture (see March 21, 2003 and After). [Rewards for Justice, 3/2003] The FBI informant named “Mohamed” is likely Elie Assaad, who will later claim he associates some with Shukrijumah and Atta at a Florida mosque around this time (see Early 2001).
Gulshair Shukrijumah, Adnan’s father. [Source: Fox News]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.” [New York Times, 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. [CNN, 3/22/2003; US News and World Report, 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. [ABC News, 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. [US News and World Report, 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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