The capture of the amateurish JFK plotters by the FBI and NYPD was not an end in itself, but a sting operation to snare much bigger game. They were chosen as bait for their Caribbean links.
Former baggage handler Russell Defreitas, 63, at New York’s J.F. Kennedy international airport, was picked because he was born in Guyana; two of his alleged conspirators, Kareem Ibrahim and Abdul Kadir, are Trinidadians who face extradition to New York. A fourth is at large.
Defreitas was improbably cast as the mastermind of a mega-plot to blow up the airport’s fuel line. He is quoted as saying damningly he hoped the operation would cause greater destruction than the Sept. 11 attacks.
But he probably did not know that the Kennedy pipeline is part of a national network run by Buckeye Partners LP, which serves major airports in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pennsylvania and other locations, as well as delivering jet fuel to military bases.
He was certainly unaware that the JFK pipeline is designed to shut off before a fire at one end spreads through its 40-km length, therefore no chain-reaction explosion and no tens of thousands of casualties, even if the plot had gone beyond its planning stages.
The fail-safe method for fuel lines was demonstrated on Dec. 11, 2005 in Britain’s biggest peacetime blaze at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal (HOSL), which handled some 2.37 million metric tones of oil products, mainly petrol, diesel and aviation fuel, delivered each year by tankers and pipeline. The plant, co-owned by Total and Texaco, suffered extensive damage, but a water curtain helped save large areas. There were no casualties and little damage to surrounding streets.
The threat to JFK was never real
Therefore, the official account by New York law enforcement spokespersons of the devastation which the airport and Queens escaped was overstated. The explosion would have been contained at the fuel terminal and valves would have shut down damage to the pipeline. Also beside the point was the official claim that the JFK radical Islamic cell had been successfully penetrated.
To the best knowledge of DEBKA-net-Weekly‘s counter-terror experts, American double agents have never successfully penetrated an operational al Qaeda cell in time to abort a really dangerous terrorist attack in an advanced stage of preparation.
Al Qaeda’s operational networks are so tightly compartmented that a double agent never gets beyond lowliest logistic levels who are themselves in the dark about targets, operatives and senior ranks.
This was proved by the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the March 2004 rail bombings in Madrid and the London transport suicides in July 2005. To this day, the US, Spanish and British authorities have not got to the bottom of the machinery which carried the suicide bombers to their targets, captured the masterminds who activated them or located their bases of operations.
Even less effective are the penetration efforts of freelance radical groups still dreaming of terrorist exploits. In the case of the JFK plotters, it took 18 months of patient work for the agent to buy its members’ trust, persuade them that the money and means were available for true martyrs, plant a target in their heads and persuade them to execute the operation.
In other words, the plot’s instigator was the penetration agent himself – although at some point, recruits were brought into the trumped-up conspiracy.
Caribbean-linked zealots framed to trap al Qaeda’s dirty bomber
Most counter-terror agencies have turned to more effective methods for subverting genuinely dangerous terrorist networks. This therefore was not the purpose of the Caribbean cell’s penetration.
On June 4, a US law enforcement official gave the game away by a chance reference to Adnan Gulshair El Shukirjumah, a long-sought fugitive alleged to be al Qaeda’s dirty bomb expert.
The official disclosed that the suspects had been captured on tape discussing recruiting Shukrijumah with the help of fellow Islamic radicals in Trinidad and Guyana, where El Shukrijumah grew up. The Caribbean was thus woven for the first time into the extremist Islamic fabric, although the official who spoke on condition of anonymity admitted there was no evidence that the men had ever made contact with the wanted man.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources concluded that the FBI’s real purpose in developing the JFK plot was to use Defreitas and his co-conspirators in Trinidad, Kareem Ibrahim and Abdul Kadir, as bait to net El Shukrijumah. The scenario of an attack on the New York international airport on a scale that surpassed 9/11 was designed to beguile the dirty bomb expert and draw him into an American trap.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly, whose terror experts first picked up El Shukrijumah’s trail in November 2003 (DNW Issue 132), report that since August 2006, the radiological bomb specialist has been variously rumored to be on the move in Central America, including Trinidad. There have also been sightings on the US-Mexican boarder (DNW 270 of Sept 15, 2006: Al Qaeda’s Dirty Bomb Agent Resurfaces).
He is one the most elusive and dangerous al Qaeda agents at large. Tracking him down on the American continent is like looking for a needle in a haystack. US anti-terror authorities therefore hit on the device of putting a bunch of Islamist radicals with Central American links in a frame to draw him into a trap. But the fugitive was not deceived.