PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Saudi American accused of plotting to bomb the New York City subway system in 2009 was killed in a pre-dawn army attack on a remote al-Qaeda militant hideout, Pakistani officials said Saturday.
Helicopter gunships targeted Adnan el Shukrijumah in the lawless region of South Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said. He had moved there recently after escaping another Pakistani military operation in the neighboring North Waziristan region, they said. Two of his men were also killed in the attack, the officials said.
The military said that, in an operation based on intelligence information, “top al-Qaeda leader Adnan el Shukrijumah was killed by [the] Pakistan Army in an early morning raid in Shinwarsak, South Waziristan today.”
“His accomplice and local facilitator were also killed in the raid,” the statement added. A Pakistani soldier was slain in the operation, it said.
Shukrijumah was believed to be in charge of al Qaeda’s external operations. His killing is the latest blow to a terror network whose leadership ranks have been depleted in recent years, most notably with the U.S. raid in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden.
The Saudi-born Shukrijumah, who is in his late 30s, appears to be the highest ranking al-Qaeda member to be killed by the Pakistani military.
The FBI launched a global manhunt for Shukrijumah in 2003, and the U.S. Department of State offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. U.S. officials at the time described him as an “imminent threat to U.S. citizens and interests,” adding that he was possibly as significant an organizer of terrorist acts as Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who lived in New York and South Florida, Shukrijumah fled the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2010, he was charged in a failed plot to blow up three New York City subway lines the previous year. At the time, prosecutors described the planned operation as the most significant threat to New York since the Sept. 11 attacks. They also alleged he was involved in a scheme to attack a shopping center in Manchester, England.
Mahmood Shah, a former Pakistan military brigadier who is now a security analyst, said in a telephone interview that intelligence officials had learned that Shukrijumah was in Shinwarsak, about six miles outside the town of Wana in South Waziristan. Shah said the military’s operation in North Waziristan had “local and foreign militants on the run,” forcing them to leave safe havens and venture into other areas.
The Reuters news agency quoted villagers as saying that convoys of Pakistani military vehicles closed in early Saturday on a house in a neighborhood known to be sympathetic to the Taliban. An Arab man had started living at the house two months ago, the agency quoted a neighbor as saying. He apparently turned out to be Shukrijumah.
The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a tribesman in a neighboring village as saying that drones had been involved in the operation. The agency said it was not clear if they belonged to the U.S. government, which has used the aerial vehicles to launch attacks on Islamist militants in Pakistani tribal areas.
According to U.S. officials, Shukrijumah may have traveled in recent years on passports from Guyana, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Canada. Hespoke English with hardly an accent, and was able to blend in to Western cultures easily.
Shukrijumah trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to U.S. officials. He also met with Jose Padilla, the American accused of planning to detonate a radiological bomb in the United States.
In a tweet, Gen. Asim Bajwa, director-general of public relations for Pakistan’s Inter Services security agency, cited Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, as vowing to eliminate all terrorists on Pakistani soil. “None will be spared,” he was quoted as saying.
Raghavan reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the FBI had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. The reward was offered by the U.S. Department of State.