Adam Gadahn: Al Qaeda's American Voice
Adam Gadahn (born Adam Pearlman) was born in 1978 in Oregon and grew up on a farm in Orange County, California. His parents reportedly changed their name to Gadahn in reference to Gideon, the Biblical warrior who defeated the enemies of Israel. Gadahn’s mother was raised Catholic. His father, born Jewish, grew up atheist and later converted to Christianity.
Gadahn and his three younger siblings were home-schooled and joined several Christian home-school support groups, which he attended for nearly eight years. Gadahn would later criticize these Christian groups for their “blind dogmatism and charismatic wackiness” in an essay he wrote titled Becoming Muslim after his conversion to Islam. He also revealed in the essay, which was posted on the Muslim Students Association (MSA) Web site at the University of Southern California, that he left Christianity after learning “that belief in the Trinity, something I find absolutely ridiculous, is considered by most Christians to be a prerequisite for salvation.”
As a teenager Gadahn became very interested in death metal, a genre of music that was derived from heavy metal and often expresses violent themes in its lyrics. In 1993, Gadahn formed a one man band called Aphasia, which reportedly featured a photo on its cover of a corpse being cremated from the Holocaust.
Gadahn’s involvement with death metal music reportedly created a rift between him and his parents, and he moved in with his paternal grandparents. In his essay Becoming Muslim, Gadahn expressed regret over this issue. “I had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music, something the rest of my family (as I now realize, rightfully so) was not happy with…My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so. I am sorry even as I write this.”
In 1995, soon after he moved in with his grandparents, Gadahn converted to Islam. In Becoming Muslim, he describes his path to Islam, which began when he discovered he did not believe in Christianity. Gadahn claimed that his knowledge of Muslims, which he was familiar with because his father was a halal butcher, led him to research the religion further. Muslims, he wrote, “were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be.”
Gadahn joined an Islamic discussion group at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove. In addition to studying the Quran, the group reportedly discussed their hostility toward Jews. According to an observer of the discussion group, they spoke about “Jews who are running America. Jews who are running Israel.”
Haitham Bundakji, the mosque’s president at the time, gave Gadahn a job as a security guard, but later fired him because he was found sleeping on the job. Bundakji also banned the discussion group from meeting at the mosque because of their extreme views (members reportedly called Bundakji “Danny the Jew” because of his interfaith efforts). In 1997, Gadahn was arrested and pleaded guilty to an assault charge, after punching Bundakji in the face at the mosque. Gadahn was sentenced to two days in jail and 40 hours of community service. He served his jail time, according to court documents, but did not perform his community service, leading to a warrant for his arrest, which is still active today.
Two mosque members – Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab – reportedly pushed Gadahn to follow a radical interpretation of Islam. The men recruited Gadahn to work for an Orange County charity called Charity Without Borders, a charity shut down by California’s Department of Justice after the September 11 terrorist attacks for further investigation. U.S. officials allege that the charity funneled money to extremists in the Middle East.
Deek and Diab have alleged ties to several terrorists, including Abu Zubaydah, a suspected Al Qaeda member and close associate to Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader killed by U.S. forces in June 2006, and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in prison for conspiracy to blow up New York landmarks in 1993.
Gadahn may have established a relationship with Zubaydah through Deek and Diab. In the late 1990s, Gadahn traveled to Pakistan and worked closely with Zubaydah, according to the FBI. Later Gadahn reportedly made his way to Al Faruq, an Al Qaeda terror camp in Afghanistan where he translated Al Qaeda military manuals from Arabic to English.
Gadahn, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, reportedly made his last phone call to his parents a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and informed them that he married an Afghan refugee and was expecting a baby.