The Life of Adam Gadahn, an American Al Qaeda Spokesman

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Last week, Al Qaeda confirmed the death of Adam Gadahn, an Al Qaeda member who was killed in an airstike this past January. He was also known as Adam Pearlman or by his nom de guerre Azzam the American. Throughout his time in Al Qaeda, Gadahn maintained a high profile, appearing regularly in videos and calling for Americans to conduct attacks within the United States. The White House confirmed his death back in April.

Adam Gadhan was born on September 1, 1978 in Oregon to Philip and Jennifer Gadahn, and he died in January 2015. He was married to a Muslim woman from Afghanistan, with whom he had at least one child. He spent much of his own childhood on a goat farm in Winchester, California with his parents, who had a number of religious influences and avoided modern technology. He was homeschooled and received a strict upbringing. His father sold meat slaughtered under strict Islamic dietary rules.

At the age of 18, Gadahn moved to Orange County to live with his grandparents, who were Jewish. He began attending services at the Islamic Society of Orange County, where he fell under the influence of Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab. In 1995, Gadhan converted to Islam and became involved in Deek and Diab’s charity organization, Charity Without Borders. At the time of his conversion, he posted a testimonial on the internet explaining why he converted, citing a tense relationship with his parents and a rejection of Christianity. The witness for his conversion was the mosque chairman, Haitham Bundakji. Two years later, Gadahn was kicked out of the mosque for hitting Bundakji, to which he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery. He was sentenced to two days in jail and 40 hours of community service.

Gadahn travelled to Pakistan in 1998 and ended up at a terrorist training camp. The last time that he contacted his parents was in 2002, and on May 26, 2004, his name was released by the FBI as being a part of a terror cell planning to disrupt the 2004 US election. In 2004 and 2005, he appeared disguised in a number of videos where he received praise from Osama Bin Laden and threatened attacks against the US and Australia, and he began to appear undisguised in 2006. Also in 2006, he was charged with treason and providing material support for terrorism; a $1 million award was announced for information leading to his capture. Throughout the rest of his life, he appeared in many more Al Qaeda videos, where he renounced his US citizenship, discussed his Jewish ancestry, praised terrorist attacks, and encouraged Muslims in the West to carry out their own attacks at home.

Gadahn never exhibited indications as a child that he would one-day become such a notorious figure, and part of his desire to join the Islamic community in Orange County likely came from his unhappiness with his parents. However, had he never attended the mosque or fallen into the wrong hands while there, he may not have become the violent terrorist that he was at the time of his death.

The Islamic Society of Orange County was founded in 1976, and is the largest Muslim community center in Southern California, serving over 10,000 Muslims. It was founded by Mahboob Khan, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official in the US until the time of his death who had invited Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri to speak at another Californian mosque that he ran, the An-Noor Mosque in Santa Clara. His son, Suhail Khan, advocates for the implementation of Sharia in America.

The current religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County is Muzammil Siddiqi, who is involved with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). Both the ISNA and NAIT were listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation trial, which found the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development guilty of providing support to Hamas. The ISNA and NAIT are also listed as friends of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US in its Explanatory Memorandum, which outlines its goals to wage “civilization jihad” against Americans. The FCNA also has ties to Islamist terrorism through its leadership, which has been involved directly and indirectly in terrorist activity. Siddiqi himself served as a chairman of the Department of Religious Affairs at the Muslim World League Office of the UN, an office created by the Saudi royal family to spread Wahhabi Islam, from 1976 to 1980. In 2000, he said that Jerusalem belonged to the Muslims, and he has expressed interest in the implementation of Sharia law and advocated for jihad. Siddiqi has been the director at the Islamic Society of Orange County since 1981, eclipsing Gadahn’s time there.

Gadahn’s attendance at the terror-tied mosque laid the groundwork for the violent indoctrination that was to come later through Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab. The two were neighbors in the Little Gaza section of Anaheim and were important Al Qaeda figures. They ran a sleeper cell operation in Orange County and hosted top Al Qaeda officials when they visited the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman (who is currently serving a life sentence at the Supermax penitentiary in Colorado for numerous terrorism-related convictions). With Siddiqi as translator, Abdel-Rahman gave a lecture at the mosque in December 1992, months before he was indicted for his participation in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. Should Gadahn have not become involved with Diab and Deek, he still would have been exposed to jihadist ideology at the mosque itself.

With the help of Diab’s wife, the Diab and Deek formed Charity Without Borders, which received tax-exempt status as a religious organization and a $75,000 state grant to distribute fliers about recycling, as a front to be used to funnel money to terrorist groups overseas. Gadahn was listed as a crew member in the Charity’s records in 1998, the same year that he went to Pakistan to go to a terrorist training camp. Charity Without Borders was shut down following 9/11.

Adam Gadahn provides a case study into the effects that violent ideology can have on marginalized youth. Growing up, he had very little access to the internet, so he did not become indoctrinated until he was able to begin attending a mosque that was under Muslim Brotherhood control. However, his descent into the world of Al Qaeda and terror is becoming a more common occurrence as more people have access to terrorist-run websites and then fall into the networks that terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood have created. The fact that Siddiqi, Diab, and Deek all ended up in Orange County together is no coincidence. As shown very clearly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Explanatory Memorandum, these Islamist organizations are creating grids of interconnected groups all espousing the same jihadist propaganda. Countries must expand their counterterrorism efforts to attack these networks, many of which are run by the Muslim Brotherhood, that are at the root of the spread of jihadist ideology in Western society today.

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