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Top al-Qaida operative of Guyanese parentage killed in Pakistan

Adnan Shukrijumah

A top al-Qaida operative, of Guyanese parentage, was killed by Pakistani  soldiers Saturday. He was indicted in the U.S. for his alleged involvement in a plot to bomb New York’s subway system, the military said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported that the death of Adnan Shukrijumah is the latest blow to the terror organization still reeling from the 2011 killing of leader Osama bin Laden and now largely eclipsed by the militant Islamic State group. It also marks a major achievement for the Pakistani military, which mounted a widespread military operation in the northwest this summer.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website, Shukrijumah spoke English and carried a Guyanese passport, but might have attemptedto enter the United States with a Saudi, Canadian, or Trinidadian passport. The website said the man was wanted in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States and a US$5 million award is up for grabs for information leading directly to his capture. Shrukijumah was born to a Guyanese father.

The military announced Shukrijumah’s death in a statement, saying that he was killed along with two other suspected militants in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area early Saturday. South Waziristan is part of the mountainous territory bordering Afghanistan that is home to various militant groups fighting both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The al-Qaida leader, who was killed by the Pakistan army in a successful operation, is the same person who had been indicted in the United Stated,” said a senior Pakistani army officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to journalists.

As al-Qaida’s head of external operations, the 39-year-old Shukrijumah occupied a position once held by Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The FBI lists Shukrijumah, a Saudi national, as a “most wanted” terrorist and the U.S. State Department had offered up to a $5 million reward for his capture.

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. allege Shukrijumah had recruited the three men in 2008 to receive training in the lawless tribal region of Pakistan for the subway attack. The three traveled to Pakistan to avenge the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan but were persuaded by al-Qaida operatives to return to the United States for a suicide-bombing mission against a major target such as the New York Stock Exchange, Times Square or Grand Central Terminal.

Eventually, the men settled on a plot to blow themselves up at rush hour, according to testimony in federal court. Attorney General Eric Holder has called that New York plot one of the most dangerous since 9/11.

After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Shukrijumah was seen as one of al-Qaida’s best chances to attack inside the U.S. or Europe, captured terrorist Abu Zubaydah told U.S. authorities. Shukrijumah 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 had already left the country.

In 2004, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called Shukrijumah a “clear and present danger” to the United States.

The Pakistani military said that Shukrijumah had recently moved from the North Waziristan tribal area to South Waziristan to avoid a military operation the Pakistanis launched in June in North Waziristan. The military said he was hiding in a compound when he was killed but gave few other details about the raid. One Pakistani soldier was killed and another seriously wounded during the assault, the military said.

Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, said on Twitter that five “terrorists” also were detained in the raid.

The United States has been pushing Pakistan for years to launch an operation in North Waziristan, the last area of the tribal region bordering Afghanistan where the Pakistani military had not forcefully moved to root out militants. The military says they have killed 1,200 militants in the North Waziristan operation and cleared 90 percent of the territory.