Pakistan: Jewish ‘al-Qaida’ spokesman arrested
KARACHI, Pakistan – The U.S.-born spokesman for al-Qaida has been captured in Pakistan, government sources said Sunday. But the reports were greeted with skepticism by U.S. intelligence officials, who said Pakistanis might have confused another detainee with Adam Yahiye Gadahn.
Two Pakistani officers told The Associated Press that they had taken part in an operation that netted Gadahn. A senior Pakistani government official also confirmed the arrest. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
A Pakistani intelligence source confirmed the report to NBC News, adding that Gadahn was detained in Sohrab Goth, a suburb of Karachi, and was later moved to the capital Islamabad.
But in Washington, none of the U.S. intelligence sources contacted by NBC News had any word of the detention. “Confidence in the arrest seems to be waning,” said one source.
“Given his high profile, and the fact he’s an American citizen, we (the U.S. government) should have heard something by now,” said a senior official. “Then again it is Pakistan.”
One U.S. intelligence official thought there may be some confusion with another, lower profile al-Qaida operative with a similar middle name who was apparently picked up within the past several days.
Frontman for al-Qaida
If the capture proves true, it would be a major victory in the U.S.-led battle against al-Qaida and would be taken as another sign that Pakistan is cooperating more fully with Washington. Several Afghan Taliban commanders were captured last month in Karachi.
Gadahn moved to Pakistan in 1998, according to the FBI, and is said to have attended an al-Qaida training camp six years later, serving as a translator and consultant for the group.
A U.S. court charged Gadahn with treason in 2006, making him the first American to face such a charge in more than 50 years. He could face the death penalty if convicted. He was also charged with two counts of providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Gadahn, 31, grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County, Calif., and converted to Islam at a mosque in nearby Orange County.
Gadahn has been wanted by the FBI since 2004. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest or conviction.
In the past, Pakistan has handed over some al-Qaida suspects arrested on its soil to the United States.
Al-Qaida has used Gadahn as its chief English-speaking spokesman, and he has called for the destruction of the West and for strikes against targets in the United States. 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.
The last person in the U.S. 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 was last known to be in Southern California in 1997 or 1998. His mother says she last spoke to him by phone in March 2001. At the time he was in Pakistan, working at a newspaper, and his wife was expecting a child.
Gadahn video posted online
The report of his arrest came as a videotaped recording by Gadahn was placed online.
In it, Gadahn called on Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces to emulate the Army major charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas
In the 25-minute video posted on militant Web sites, Gadahn described Maj. Nidal Hasan as a pioneer who should serve as a role model for other Muslims, especially those serving Western militaries.
“Brother Nidal is the ideal role model for every repentant Muslim in the armies of the unbelievers and apostate regimes,” he said.
Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, was dressed in white robes and wearing a white turban as he called for attacks on what he described as “high-value targets.”
“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,” he said, an assault rifle leaning up against a wall next to him.
Hasan has been charged in the Nov. 5 shooting that killed 13 people at Fort Hood. The 39-year-old Army psychiatrist remains paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by two civilian members of Fort Hood’s police force.
“Nidal Hasan is a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers,” Gadahn said.
Media cited as targetable
In the latest video, Gadahn said those planning attacks did not need to use only firearms like Hasan, but could use other weapons. “As the blessed operations of September 11th showed, a little imagination and planning and a limited budget can turn almost anything into a deadly, effective and convenient weapon.”
Gadahn said fighters should target mass transportation systems in the West and also wreak havoc “by killing or capturing people in government, industry and the media.”
He recommended finding ways to shake “consumer confidence and stifle spending” and noted that even unsuccessful attacks, such as the failed attempt to bomb a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, can bring major cities to a halt.