Suspected militant from US arrested in Pakistan

Man might not be Al Qaeda spokesman; Reports differ on suspect’s ID

In videos for Al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn called for attacks on the West. In videos for Al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn called for attacks on the West. (FBI via AFP/ Getty Images)
By Ashraf Khan and Chris Brummmitt
Associated Press / March 8, 2010

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Pakistani intelligence officials are trying to establish the identity of an American militant suspect arrested in Pakistan, but doubts grew today that he is Al Qaeda’s US-born spokesman.

Pakistani officials have contradicted each other on whether the suspect is Adam Gadahn, 31, who has appeared in videos threatening the West. Two intelligence officers and a senior government official identified the detained man yesterday Gadahn. However, a different official today said the suspect was an American, but not Gadahn.

“We are trying to work out who he is,” said the official, who like all Pakistani intelligence agents does not allow his name to be used. “He is an American, but he is not Adam.”

The suspect was arrested recently in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, the officials said.

The New York Times reported that US and Pakistani officials identified the man arrested as Abu Yahya Mujahdeen al-Adam, who was described as having been born in Pennsylvania and thought to be affiliated with the operations division of Al Qaeda, commanding fighters in Afghanistan. Associated Press sources said Gadahn also goes by the aliases of Yahya Majadin Adams and Azzam al-Amriki.

The conflicting reports could not be immediately explained, and there was no way to independently verify the identity of the man in custody.

The reported arrest follows the recent detention of several Afghan Taliban commanders in Karachi, including the group’s second in command. Those detentions have been seen as a sign that Pakistan, which has been criticized as an untrustworthy ally, was cooperating more fully with Washington.

“If this is [Gadahn], it’s a big capture and a morale-booster,” said Patrick Rowan, the former top antiterrorism official in the Bush Justice Department. “It’s a blow to Al Qaeda and a boost to the US when a guy that has been taunting the US for years has been captured.”

Gadahn has appeared in more than half a dozen Al Qaeda videos, taunting the West and calling for its destruction. The video that surfaced yesterday showed him urging American Muslims to attack their own country.

According to two officers who took part in the operation, Gadahn was arrested in the sprawling southern metropolis of Karachi in recent days. The intelligence officials said Gadahn was being interrogated by Pakistani officials. Pakistani agents and those from the CIA work closely on some operations in Pakistan, but it was not clear whether any Americans were involved in the operation or questioning.

In the past, Pakistan has handed over some Al Qaeda suspects arrested on its soil to the United States.

Gadahn could offer valuable intelligence about Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and maybe even Osama bin Laden, Rowan said.

Gadahn has been on the FBI’s most wanted list since 2004 and there is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest. He was charged with treason in 2006 and faces the death penalty if convicted. He was also charged with two counts of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The last person in the United States convicted of treason was Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese-American sentenced to death in 1952 for tormenting American prisoners of war during World War II. President Eisenhower later commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

Gadahn grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County, Calif., and converted to Islam at a mosque in Orange County. He moved to Pakistan in 1998, according to the FBI, and is said to have attended an Al Qaeda training camp six years later, serving as a translator and consultant.

In the video posted yesterday, he praised the US Army major charged with killing 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, as a role model for other Muslims. It appeared to have been made after the end of the year, but it was unclear exactly when.

“You shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that military bases are the only high-value targets in America and the West. On the contrary, there are countless other strategic places, institutions, and installations, which, by striking, the Muslim can do major damage,” Gadahn said, an assault rifle leaning up against a wall next to him.

Pakistan joined the US fight against Islamic extremists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and several high-ranking Al Qaeda and Taliban have been arrested. But critics have accused the country of not fully cracking down on militants, especially those who do not stage attacks in Pakistan, while receiving billions of dollars in US aid.

Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the country, most likely close to the Afghan border.

Al Qaeda has used Gadahn as its chief English-speaking spokesman. In one video, he ceremoniously tore up his American passport. In another, he admitted his grandfather was Jewish, ridiculing him for his beliefs, and calling for Palestinians to continue fighting Israel.

Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southfield, Mich., condemned Gadahn’s call for violence, calling it a “desperate” attempt by Al Qaeda’s spokesman to provoke bloodshed within the United States.

Walid, a Navy veteran, said Muslims honorably serving in the American military will be unimpressed by Al Qaeda’s message aimed at their ranks.

“We thoroughly repudiate and condemn his statement and what we believe are his failed attempts to incite loyal American Muslims in the military,” he said.