Muslims living and worshipping in Downtown are refuting an FBI report that Adnan Shukrijumah, a top al-Qaeda terrorist leader, sprouted from Atlantic Avenue’s close knit Islamic community and worshipped in a neighborhood mosque where his father was an imam.
“No one here knows him. … We don’t lie,” said Mohammad Ali, the current imam at the Al-Farooq Mosque on Atlantic Avenue between Third and Fourth avenues, where Shukrijumah’s father allegedly led prayer services in the 1990s. “No one who has been here for the last 30 years knows him.”
Yet the FBI isn’t backing away from its claims that the Saudi Arabian-born Shukrijumah, 35, spent a large portion of his adolescence in Downtown Brooklyn.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he and his family lived near the Al-Farooq mosque, where his father, a Muslim missionary from Guyana who died in 2004, led worshippers and acted as a translator for Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric who masterminded the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
In 1995, when Shukrijumah was 20, he and his family left Brooklyn for Florida, where his father founded a mosque in Fort Lauderdale.
The young Shukrijumah sold cars and did other odd jobs before finally leaving the U.S. in June, 2001 — three months before 9-11, FBI officials noted.
Once he joined al-Qaeda, he started low on the totem pole, cleaning up various camps and washing dishes.
But he quickly moved up the ranks and ended up under the wing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind the 9-11 attacks who was captured in Pakistan in 2003.
Today, Shukrijumah has Mohammed’s job and is hiding in northwest Pakistan with a $5-million price on his head, the FBI said.
“[Shukrijumah] would be equated with being [al-Qaeda’s] chief of operations,” FBI special agent Brian LeBlanc told CNN on Friday, describing him as Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man. “He’s looking at attacking the U.S. and other Western countries. Basically, through attrition, he has become his old boss.
“[Shukrijumah] may not be someone who’s going to come into the United States to conduct the attack, but what makes him more dangerous is he’s out there plotting the attacks and recruiting people to actively do that,” LeBlanc added.
That proved true last month when investigators linked Shukrijumah to a 2009 suicide bombing plot in New York.
Shukrijumah was indicted in absentia in Brooklyn Federal Court for his connection to Najibullah Zazi, the Queens resident arrested in April for planning multiple suicide bombings inside crowded subway trains. Before his arrest, Zazi had scouted out places where the bombs would create the most carnage, officials said.
According to the indictment, Shukrijumah met Zazi in Pakistan in 2008, recruited him to conduct the suicide bombings and promised to provide him with “material, support and resources” for his plan.
Federal investigators also believe Shukrijumah has ties to terrorist cells in England.
Yet the mention of Shukrijumah’s name on Atlantic Avenue this week was met with either blank stares or outrage over news that, once again, Atlantic Avenue — and the Al-Farooq Mosque in particular — has been tied to Islamic extremism.
In the 1990s, the mosque was reportedly Abdel-Rahman’s base of operations. In 2003, several Brooklyn businessmen connected to the mosque were accused of funneling $20 million to al-Qaeda.
Ali, who has been leading services at the Al-Farooq Mosque since 2009, said the house of worship’s alleged connections to al-Qaeda were long over.
“The mosque is different now,” he said. “It’s not the same as it was and everyone knows that.”
Yet no one at the mosque wants to lay claim to its checkered past — or Shukrijumah.
When approached, several of the mosque’s long time worshippers said they did not recognize the terrorist leader. Others wouldn’t talk.
The same went for neighboring businesses.
“I don’t know anything about this,” added an employee at Murbarez Travel, located next to the mosque.
Many shopkeepers refused to speak about Shukrijumah. One employee at Makkah Islamic Books and Clothing even ordered a reporter out of his store once he learned that the visit was about Shukrijumah’s alleged connections to the neighborhood.
Mohammad Azeem, a Long Island University student who worships at the Al-Farooq Mosque, said that many are upset by the stain extremists like Shukrijumah have left on Brooklyn’s Islamic community.
“This is a cosmopolitan area. We all have jobs, and we come here to pray and then we leave,” Azeem said. “It’s not like the mosque is in a secret basement somewhere and we’re hiding. We’re on Atlantic Avenue, in the heart of Brooklyn! People from every nationality come here, and we all love peace.”
— with Ben Kochman