Adnan el-Shukrijumah’s Rise to Prominence Within al-Qaeda
One of al-Qaeda’s men is reportedly moving up the ladder in Pakistan’s FATA due to the efficacy of the CIA’s drone program that seeks to devastate the group’s leadership. Adnan el-Shukrijumah, who maintains a five million dollar bounty from the FBI’s Rewards for Justice program and has been a wanted terrorist suspect since 2003, has reared into the spotlight thanks to an FBI Special Investigator named Brian LeBlanc who has begun speaking to the media, stating that el-Shukrijumah is the successor in the AQ command hierarchy to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (AP, August 6, 2010). El-Shukrijumah was born in Saudi Arabia in 1975 (though possibly not from a Saudi background) but is a citizen of Guyana and holds (or held) U.S. Resident Alien status, a unique factor among AQ leaders. According to relatives there, el-Shukrijumah’s last confirmed sighting in Guyana was January 2004 (EFE, May 8, 2007). Since then his whereabouts have remained unknown.
El-Shukrijumah, who is also wanted by Interpol, was rumored to be making inroads in Central America’s violent transnational gangs, such as the Los Angeles-based Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), via his Guyanese passport, but such talk was staunchly denied by Interpol’s head regional investigator, Saul Hernandez (El Diario de Hoy [San Salvador], October 7, 2004). El-Shukrijumah was also believed to have traveled in Honduras in 2004, but evidence of his whereabouts was never confirmed (see Terrorism Monitor, October 21, 2005). Costa Rican authorities claimed they were concerned after Honduran and Panamanian officials cited reports of el-Shukrijumah in their respective territories (Agencia Centroamericana de Noticias, June 30, 2004). Nicaragua’s then Foreign Minister Norman Caldera Cardenal commenting in part on the February withdrawal of the Nicaraguan contingent two months prior to Spain’s politically driven pull-out of the Plus Ultra brigade from Iraq in April 2004, said only vaguely that "al-Qaeda poses a terrible threat," when asked to comment on the alleged presence of el-Shukrijumah in the region (Agencia Centroamericana de Noticias, October 1, 2004). Cardenal and his colleagues in Managua stated that their motivation to withdraw their troops was based on the country’s less than stellar fiscal reality rather than the fear of a terrorist blowback on the Nicaraguan homeland. In 2004, there seemed to almost be an el-Shukrijumah fever in the Americas after he was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list but as of the end of 2004, his presence completely dropped off the radar for many years.
Adnan el-Shukrijumah lived in the United States for some 15 years. His late father, Gulshair el-Shukrijumah, was a Saudi-funded imam who preached at Masjid al-Nur al-Islam on 21 Church Avenue in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood, as well as the notorious al-Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue, and reportedly worked as an interpreter for Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, currently imprisoned. His widowed mother lives in Miramar, Florida. El-Shukrijumah had lived in obscurity with his elderly mother while studying at Broward County Community College but has been thrust back into the spotlight after details emerged from the interrogation of Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi, on trial at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, in regard to the New York City subway bomb plot.
IMU’s Leadership in Transition
After close to a year of speculation, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) confirmed the death on August 16 of Tahir Yuldashev (Tohir Yoldoshev), one of the group’s leaders since its founding in the Soviet Union’s final chaotic days. Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai told of a man claiming to be Yuldashev’s bodyguard phoning RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters saying that his boss had been killed in a drone attack in South Waziristan on August 27, 2009 (The News International [Karachi], September 30, 2009). Yuldashev was allied with the late Baitullah Mehsud, who himself was killed in a drone hit and the IMU was inhabiting the same areas as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in the tribal areas (Daily Times [Lahore], October 2, 2009). His death was not, until now, confirmed by the IMU itself and speculation about the future of the group’s leadership remained rife throughout the last year. Yuldashev had run the IMU for the past seven or so years after Juma Namangani, its original amir, was killed during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Seeing as the IMU transitioned relatively unhindered from Namangani to Yuldashev, it is not unreasonable to believe that the militant group will carry on unhindered with the appointment of its new amir.
The regional dimension of the IMU’s activities could become more complicated after the June unrest in Kyrgyzstan’s sector of the Ferghana valley that may have killed as many as 2000 people, thought to be mainly Uzbek civilians. While the IMU is an Islamist outfit first and foremost that seeks the overthrow of the regime of Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov and the formation of a pan-Central Asian Islamic state devoid of Stalinist borders, alarm bells are now being rung in Kyrgyzstan (without solid evidence thus far being presented) that ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan may be traveling to South Waziristan to train in terrorism techniques, according to Major General Artur Medetbekov (AKIpress, August 27, 2010). Avenging June’s violence would be a symptom of reactive ethno-nationalism rather than violent Islamism, of which the latter is the IMU’s stock and trade. Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Felix Kulov told the media that the IMU had declared a “jihad” against Kyrgyzstan and that he strongly desired troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization to be deployed in southern Kyrgyzstan to foil threats made by IMU leadership (AKIpress, August 26, 2010). Kulov stated that he had no desire for a repeat (in reverse) of June’s violence, when organized Kyrgyz belligerents burned thousands of primarily Uzbek homes and slaughtered hundreds, possibly thousands.
The IMU’s new amir is stated to be Usman Adil (a.k.a. Usmon Odil), also known as Abu Usman. Amir Adil commented on the year long secrecy of his predecessor’s death, though he did not divulge any valuable specifics. “The main reason for keeping this information secret for a year was that the mujahidin were engaged in fierce fighting in Afghanistan and, particularly, in Pakistan against enemies of Islam” and “The fighting was at its peak when troops of Islam’s apostates had fully besieged the area where we were. Unexpectedly, this sad event occurred [the death of Yuldashev], and the IMU leadership, in line with jihad laws of our Shari’a, made a decision to keep the information secret,” stated Adil, according to a regional news website quoting Furqon.net, the IMU’s website (Ferghana.ru, August 17, 2010). Though the IMU has been engaged in fighting within Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, sometimes with Pashtun tribesman who do not welcome their presence in the case of the latter, Central Asian authorities have been using the Osh episode to possibly justify their own political ends. Russian leaders have balked at the idea of contributing troops to the greater Ferghana region for the time being, citing the global economic crisis and the need to focus on the Black Sea region as a higher priority (Kommersant, June 29, 2010). The possibility that a renewed IMU which has finally settled its leadership crisis after almost a year in limbo may move into a weakly guarded and presently unstable southern Kyrgyzstan is not outside the realm of probability. Usman is not a particularly known entity at the time of this writing but with his first act as the IMU’s amir declaring holy war on vulnerable, secular Kyrgyzstan, he may make headlines soon enough (Reuters, August 17, 2010).