Adam Gadahn

Adam Gadahn was an American convert to Islam who became a spokesman and propagandist for al-Qaeda, joining the group in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in 1998. Starting in 2004, Gadahn appeared in multiple al-Qaeda videos calling for attacks on the United States.Associated Press, “American-Born Al Qaeda Spokesman Lashes Out at U.S. in New Tape,” Fox News, January 6, 2008, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/01/06/american-born-al-qaeda-spokesman-lashes-out-at-us-in-new-tape.html. He was charged with treason in 2006, making him the first American to be indicted on the charge since the World War II era.Greg Krikorian and Richard B. Schmitt, “Adam Gadahn videos lead to treason charge,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2006, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-adam-gadahn-the-california-suburban-terrorist-killed-by-us-20150423-story.html. Gadahn died in a U.S. drone strike near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in January 2015.Greg Botelho and Ralph Ellis, “Adam Gadahn, American mouthpiece for al Qaeda, killed,” CNN, April 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/. He was one of the first Americans to join a foreign terrorist organization, leading the FBI to describe him as “a new breed of home-grown extremist [who chooses] to betray the country of his birth.”“Most Wanted Terrorist – American Charged With Treason,” FBI, October 11, 2006, https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2006/october/gadahn_101106.

The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Gadahn and his siblings were raised on a goat farm in Riverside County, California.Joseph Serna and Shelby Grad, “Adam Gadahn: Al Qaeda terrorist, California native and grandson of a Jew,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-adam-gadahn-the-california-suburban-terrorist-killed-by-us-20150423-story.html. Gadahn converted to Islam in 1995 at the age of 17 at the Islamic Society of Orange County in California. The following year, he moved in with his paternal grandparents in Santa Ana.Greg Botelho and Ralph Ellis, “Adam Gadahn, American mouthpiece for al Qaeda, killed,” CNN, April 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/. Gadahn’s Jewish paternal grandfather, Carl Pearlman, was a national board member of the Anti-Defamation League and chair of the United Jewish Welfare Fund.Stav Ziv, “American Adam Gadahn, Death Metal Fan Turned Al-Qaeda Propagandist, Killed by U.S.,” Newsweek, April 23, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/american-adam-gadahn-death-metal-fan-turned-al-qaeda-propagandist-killed-us-324465.

Gadahn purportedly radicalized under the influence of Hisham Diab while attending the Islamic Society of Orange County in the mid- to late-1990s. Diab was an acolyte of “blind sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who had previously lectured on violent jihad at the mosque in 1992. Gadahn and Diab began referring to the mosque’s leaders as “infidels” due to their interfaith outreach. Gadahn also became involved with Diab’s non-profit group, Charity Without Borders, which was ultimately closed by the U.S. government after the September 11 attacks for funneling money to extremists in the Middle East.Joseph Serna and Shelby Grad, “Adam Gadahn: Al Qaeda terrorist, California native and grandson of a Jew,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-adam-gadahn-the-california-suburban-terrorist-killed-by-us-20150423-story.html;
Raffi Khatchadourian, “Azzam the American,” New Yorker, January 22, 2007, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american;
Nick Schou, “So I Married a Terrorist…,” OC Weekly, April 19, 2007, http://www.ocweekly.com/news/so-i-married-a-terrorist-6366845.
In 1997, Gadahn was arrested for assaulting one of the mosque’s leaders. He pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, receiving a sentenced of two days in jail and community service. He was subsequently banned from the mosque.Greg Botelho and Ralph Ellis, “Adam Gadahn, American mouthpiece for al Qaeda, killed,” CNN, April 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/.

In September 1998, Diab’s Charity Without Borders allegedly paid for then-20-year-old Gadahn to fly from the United States to Pakistan. An al-Qaeda operative reportedly met Gadahn at the airport in Peshawar, and accompanied him to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Gadahn briefly traveled to the United States the following year for his grandfather’s funeral and then returned to Pakistan, telling his parents he was working as a journalist. Gadahn’s parents last heard from him in 2002.Greg Botelho and Ralph Ellis, “Adam Gadahn, American mouthpiece for al Qaeda, killed,” CNN, April 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/;
Raffi Khatchadourian, “Azzam the American,” New Yorker, January 22, 2007, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american.

U.S. officials reportedly detected Gadahn’s name in al-Qaeda communications prior to the 9/11 attacks. However, the officials failed to recognize his importance until 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) repeatedly mentioned Gadahn during interrogations following KSM’s 2003 capture.Raffi Khatchadourian, “Azzam the American,” New Yorker, January 22, 2007, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american. KSM told interrogators that he had tried to recruit Gadahn for a suicide mission, but that Gadahn had refused due to his recent marriage.Raffi Khatchadourian, “Azzam the American,” New Yorker, January 22, 2007, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/01/22/azzam-the-american. In October 2004, Gadahn made the first of several video appearances in al-Qaeda propaganda, praising Osama bin Laden and threatening attacks against the United States.“Adam Gadahn Fast Facts,” CNN, last updated August 17, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/23/us/adam-gadahn-fast-facts/index.html.

In October 2006, a California grand jury charged Gadahn in absentia with treason and providing material support to al-Qaeda.Joseph Serna and Shelby Grad, “Adam Gadahn: Al Qaeda terrorist, California native and grandson of a Jew,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-adam-gadahn-the-california-suburban-terrorist-killed-by-us-20150423-story.html. Also that month, the FBI added Gadahn to its Most Wanted Terrorists list and the U.S. Department of State offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.“Most Wanted Terrorist – American Charged With Treason,” FBI, October 11, 2006, https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/stories/2006/october/gadahn_101106.

In a May 2007 al-Qaeda video, Gadahn demanded that the United States withdraw its forces from every Muslim country; end all support and aid to the “56 plus apostate regimes of the Muslim world”; end support for Israel; release all Muslim prisoners; and end perceived interference in Islamic affairs, media, and education.“American Al-Qaeda Operative Adam Gadahn in Message to President Bush: Your People Will Experience Things That Will Make You Forget the Horrors of September 11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Virginia Tech,” MEMRI, June 3, 2007, https://www.memri.org/reports/american-al-qaeda-operative-adam-gadahn-message-president-bush-your-people-will-experience. In a January 2008 video, Gadahn tore up his U.S. passport and called on Middle Eastern Muslims to “receive” then-U.S. President George W. Bush with bombs and booby-trapped vehicles during Bush’s upcoming visit to the region.Associated Press, “American-Born Al Qaeda Spokesman Lashes Out at U.S. in New Tape,” Fox News, January 6, 2008, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/01/06/american-born-al-qaeda-spokesman-lashes-out-at-us-in-new-tape.html.

Documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound after his 2011 death reveal that Gadahn had regular contact with the al-Qaeda leader. “The Osama bin Laden documents,” CNN, last updated May 3, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/03/world/osama-bin-laden-documents/;
Matthew Grimson, “Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda Leader Killed in U.S. Drone Strike, Was a Wanted Man,” NBC News, April 23, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/american-al-qaeda-leader-adam-gadahn-dead-drone-strke-state-n346891.
According to the documents, Gadahn advised bin Laden to cut ties with al-Qaeda in Iraq because of that group’s multiple supposed failures. Gadahn also wrote to bin Laden that al-Qaeda had not been properly credited for causing the U.S. economic recession that began in 2008. He also advised on U.S. news channels, describing ABC as “all right,” while Fox News “falls into the abyss” and should “die in her anger.”“Osama Bin Laden documents released,” BBC News, May 1, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-17941778;
“Fox News, Al Qaeda's least favorite TV network,” Fox News, March 16, 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/03/16/fox-news-al-qaedas-least-favorite-television-news-network.html.

Gadahn was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on January 19, 2015.Matthew Grimson, “Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda Leader Killed in U.S. Drone Strike, Was a Wanted Man,” NBC News, April 23, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/american-al-qaeda-leader-adam-gadahn-dead-drone-strke-state-n346891. According to the White House, Gadahn was not specifically targeted.Greg Botelho and Ralph Ellis, “Adam Gadahn, American mouthpiece for al Qaeda, killed,” CNN, April 23, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/23/world/adam-gadahn-al-qaeda/.

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