Reading the indictment against the four would-be JFK airport bombers, Russell Defreitas, Abdul Nur, Kareem Ibrihim and Abdul Kadir, I was struck by the phrase “together with others” which frequently followed their names. It is on page 1, page 2, page 3, twice on page 4. In the course of the document we are introduced to these others, known only as Individuals A-G. There must be some legal rationale why we can’t know their identities. It surely can’t be to conceal from the Individuals that we know what they were up to; they must have figured out who is which letter by now. But until we know who Messrs. A-G are, we can’t know the extent of the network, or the magnitude of the threat.
Of the six, the most interesting are A and E. “A” is one of the ringleaders of the plan, playing a key role in conceptualizing and promoting it. Yet for some reason, he was not indicted. “E” is even more important — a businessman in Georgetown Guyana, who funds jihadists on their missions and comes across in the indictment as extremely knowledgeable in matters of terrorism. It seems as though he has done this many times before. He served as a mentor for the prospective attackers, but eventually pulled out of the plan when he thought it might be compromised. Good instincts.
“E” is also a friend and associate of Yasin Abu Bakr, leader of the Trinidad and Tobago extremist group Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM). He is referred to as “the JAM leader” throughout the indictment, though his identity is well known in the Caribbean. Abu Bakr had fomented a coup against the government in 1990, which failed quickly. Since then he had been in intermittent trouble with the law. The plotters seem fixated on meeting with Abu Bakr, perhaps to obtain funding from him or his sources. Abdul Nur, the only named conspirator still at large, who had previous ties to Abu Bakr, met with him in May and discussed the plan in general terms. Abu Bakr liked the idea and wanted another meeting, but first wanted to do checks on some of the others involved.
But Trinidadian conspirator Kareem Ibrihim counseled against another meeting. This was wise, since when you have a secret plan to spread mayhem in the United States through large-scale terror bombing, you ought to stay mum. Once you get past a dozen people in the circle it’s not exactly secret. Add the fact that Abu Bakr had been arrested the previous fall, charged with incitement, sedition, extortion, and terrorism. He was due to go on trial June 1, and was no doubt under constant surveillance. You might think this would not really be the best time to take a meeting with him, not if you want to keep your own identity secret. Kareem suggested instead that he bring the plan to his “contacts overseas” to seek their financial and perhaps other types of support. No indication who these contacts were.
The conspirators planned to launder whatever support they received through Abdul Kadir’s Islamic Information Centre in Linden. Kadir is a Shiite, and tied closely to the International Islamic College for Advanced Studies, which is underwritten by Iran. The college’s former Director, Mohammad Hassan Ebrahimi, was kidnapped and murdered in 2004. Kadir took over as interim head. But just as Kareem was sending his emissary (who for some reason is not identified as “Individual H”) to brief the plan to the contacts abroad, arrest warrants were issued and three of the four named conspirators were taken into custody.
Once the case goes to trial one name that may pop up is Adnan Gulshair Muhammad El Shukrijumah — alias Abu Arif, or Jafar Al-Tayar. He is a computer engineer, born in Saudi Arabia, son of a Wahabbist missionary who moved to Guyana when Adnan was three. He later spent many years in Trinidad where he was associated with the Darul-Uloom Insitute, another of the ubiquitous Islamic study centers. He also stayed for a time in south Florida. He has been closely involved with al Qaeda, and it is said he was hand picked by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to maintain the terror network in the Americas. In 2002 he was in Canada looking for “dirty bomb” components, and in 2003 a warrant was issued for his arrest. In 2004 he was named as a prime suspect in a planned attack on the United States, and Attorney General John Ashcroft described Shukrijumah “as the most dangerous of seven Al-Qa’ida operatives suspected of planning strikes in the US.” There is a $5 million reward for information leading to is arrest. If word was out in that community about a planned attack on the U.S., Shukrijuma would be someone the plotters would have liked to have met, and vice versa.
Shukrijumah has not been spotted recently, though there was a report that he had holed up with wealthy Guyanese businessman Farouk Razac. Razac had been in and out of trouble with the law for years, on weapons and drug charges mostly. It would be interesting if Razac turned out to be individual E, especially since he was murdered in his home on May 8. His wife, Carolan Lynch, has been charged with the crime, and is also the reigning Mrs. South America. Imagine putting all that together with the JFK plot. If nothing else it’s a great screenplay.
Given the international flavor of this planned attack it struck me as odd that it is being described regularly as “home grown terrorism.” To me that expression implies Americans of long-established families, growing up in the American milieu, turning to political violence as a form of protest. The Symbionese Liberation Army, for example, or the Unabomber, or the Weather Underground. Yes, Russell Defreitas is a U.S. citizen, but naturalized, and clearly not someone who grew up here or bought into the American dream or way of life. Of the other three who were arrested, two were from Guyana and one from Trinidad. The unnamed conspirators are mostly Guyanan, and none are American. Most of the people involved were foreign, the planning took place overseas, the funding came from abroad, and they sought to obtain the explosives from outside the U.S. So this is not “home grown” but definitely international terrorism.
From the indictment one gets the impression of a certain amateurishness among the plotters. Their cell was penetrated quickly — “the Source” was there from the beginning. They would speak openly about the plot until Individual E convinced them to use code language. JFK becomes “The Chicken Farm” — classic. They talked to too many people, and their obsession with meeting with Abu Bakr betrays more a fascination with his star power than a rational estimation of the assistance he could render the plan. The length of the planning cycle worked in our favor, as it did in other plots recently broken up, here and in Britain. The age of the terrorists is noteworthy — attack cells are rarely set up by guys in their 50s.
Many questions remain. Who is individual A who was so involved at the plan’s inception? Who is individual E, the businessman who has made an avocation of providing logistic support to terror cells in the Americas? How much did Abu Bakr know, and what support (if any) did he give? Who were Abdul Kareem’s overseas contacts, who was his emissary, and where was he going? Maybe all this will come out in the trial, but right now it seems like the big fish are not quite in the net.