FBI Hunts 'Al Qaeda Field Commander'

March 20, 2003 -- The FBI is hunting for a suspected terrorist likened to lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, and ramping up efforts across America to thwart potential terror attacks.

The heightened security around the country includes a massive campaign to interview potential terror suspects and informants, and quick responses to all possible reports of threats — including word that the largest nuclear power plant in the nation may have been targeted.

The FBI issued a "be on the lookout" alert for Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, asking all law enforcement personnel to notify the bureau immediately if he is located.

Sources described El Shukrijumah as an al Qaeda field commander who trained under alleged terror financier Ramzi Binalshibh. They told ABCNEWS that the 27-year-old lived for years in Florida, and was identified by captured al Qaeda attack planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Binalshibh and Mohammed are both in U.S. custody in undisclosed locations.

Mohammed also said that El Shukrijumah had been sent to the United States to carry out an operation, probably via Canada, sources said. He also may be linked to a so-called dirty bomb plot in which American Jose Padilla has been accused, they said.

The FBI said El Shukrijumah's whereabouts are unknown, but it is believed that he was in the United States shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The bureau is trying to trace his movements since then. At one point, he lived in South Florida near some of the 9/11 hijackers, officials believe.

"El Shukrijumah is possibly involved with al Qaeda terrorist activities and, if true, poses a serious threat to U.S. citizens and interests worldwide," the FBI said in its alert.

Believed to Have Trained as Pilot

El Shukrijumah was born in Saudi Arabia and is thought to be a terror operative on the level of Atta, the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, sources said. One source described him as a "real bad guy."

He is described as 5-foot-3 to 5-foot-5, 132 pounds, with a Mediterranean complexion, black hair and black eyes. He occasionally wears a beard.

He does not have a pilot's license registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, but that does not mean he is not a trained pilot. He is believed to have trained at a flight school in Florida. Many of the Sept. 11 hijackers also got flight training in the state.

He has a Guyanan passport, but may try to enter the United States with a passport from Saudi Arabia, Canada or Trinidad, the FBI said in the alert sent to thousands of law enforcement agencies.

El Shukrijumah planned to return to South Florida in late 2001, but when the FBI interviewed his father at his home in Miramar, Fla., after Sept. 11, 2001, his mother warned him to remain outside the United States, saying she feared he would be arrested if he came back to the country, according to the FBI alert.

According to El Shukrijumah's father, he is living in Morocco, where he teaches English at a school, but the family does not know how to contact him.

El Shukrijumah is the third person this week that the FBI warned law enforcement to look for. The FBI has also issued "seeking information" alerts for Dr. Mohammed Khan, 33, who was born in Pakistan, and Aafia Siddiqui, 31, who was also born in Pakistan and may be there now.

Crackdown on Iraqis in U.S.

The FBI has stepped up efforts to question thousands of Iraqi-born people living in the United States. Though the move has been criticized by civil rights groups and by members of the Iraqi community, the FBI says that questioning Iraqis and identifying any who are sympathizers with Saddam Hussein or even operatives of his government could protect innocent Iraqis from hate crimes.

The FBI has taken several thousand agents off their regular duties to carry out the interviews. Command posts, charged with gathering information and providing a quick response to any terror threat, have been opened at each of the bureau's 56 field offices, and they are all to be open 24 hours a day.

"We are bringing to bear the full weight of our resources, expertise, and partnerships," FBI Director Robert Mueller said. "We are running down every lead, responding to every threat, coordinating with every partner, and doing our utmost to keep terrorists from striking back."

Also today, teams of agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI began seeking out and arresting specific Iraqis who are in the United States illegally.

"The joint initiative, carried out as part of Operation Liberty Shield, is aimed at taking individuals off the street who might pose a threat to the safety and security of the American people," said a statement released by the Homeland Security Department. "The Iraqis targeted as part of the effort were identified using a range of intelligence criteria and all are in the country illegally."

Some U.S. Airports Considered at Higher Risk

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has decided that 55 of the nation's 429 airports are more likely to be targeted by terrorists, sources told ABCNEWS.

Those 55 airports were then divided into three subgroups. There may be fewer than 10 in the top of airports considered most at risk of a terrorist attack.

The 55 airports on the list are required to implement extra security measures when the nation goes to an orange — or "high" — terror alert warning, as it did last week. There are even more stringent precautions required of the airports in the subgroup considered most at risk.

TSA officials declined to comment on the plan.

It is unclear what the extra measures entail, but they could include additional random searchers of contractors and caterers, and increased undercover and uniformed officers in the terminal and in secure areas.

One airline told ABCNEWS that once war broke out in Iraq, it began scrutinizing passenger lists even more closely.

Arizona Nuclear Plant Targeted?

On Capitol Hill today, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there was evidence that terrorists may have targeted the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the largest commercial nuclear facility in the country.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered National Guard troops deployed at the plant — located 50 miles west of Phoenix — to beef up security.

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings that the threat was not corroborated.

Abraham told the senators that he could not divulge the source of the information, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also said he could not discuss the intelligence that led to the heightened security at the plant.

"It was obviously serious enough and deemed to be credible enough that we got the appropriate federal agencies investigating on that basis," he said.

The investigation of the threat, coordinated between the Energy and Homeland Security departments, the FBI and state and local law enforcement, began Tuesday, Ridge said.

The threat was directed only at Palo Verde, not any other sites, Ridge said.

On Monday, the national terror alert level was raised from "elevated" to "high" as preparations for war were racheted up, and Ridge said there was no new information that would lead the government to consider raising the alert level again. He said that the Palo Verde threat had nothing to do with raising the alert level to "orange" this week.

ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas, Jason Ryan, Beverley Lumpkin and Lisa Stark contributed to this report.