"Anti Terror Fatwa "chairman of Fiqh Council - Muzzamil Siddiqui helped convert Al Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn
July 28, 2005
MIM: Muzzamil Siddiqui the head of the Figh Council is also the Imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County and was instrumental in converting Adam Gadahn to Islam. Gadahn is now in Waziristan where he was last seen on videotape warning Americans that "blood would run in the streets". When asked about Gadahn Siddiqui commented that "something must have made him angry".
WASHINGTON – The California imam who helped convert an al-Qaida suspect to Islam headed a Muslim activist group under investigation here for possible financial ties to terrorist front groups.
Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, ministered to a 25-year-old Muslim convert now the subject of an FBI manhunt.
Adam Gadahn allegedly traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to train at al-Qaida camps following his conversion while attending the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, Calif., in the late 1990s. Siddiqi is head of the mosque there.
Congress is reviewing the financial records of the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, as part of a post-9-11 investigation into alleged ties between tax-exempt Muslim organizations and terrorist groups.
Siddiqi served as president of ISNA from 1996 to 2000. He still serves on its board. ISNA did not return phone calls to its Indianapolis headquarters.
The Senate Finance Committee, which is heading the probe, earlier this year asked the IRS for tax records on ISNA – the nation's largest Islamic organization – to determine the source of the non-profit group's funding. Names of donors are redacted from public tax documents for privacy reasons.
It's suspected that many U.S.-based Muslim groups receive the bulk of their money from Saudi-based charities tied to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Many also have been financially linked to Dallas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., which was shut down after 9-11 for ties to the terrorist group Hamas. Its assets have been frozen.
ISNA and Holy Land Foundation shared a web portal before authorities raided the offices of the Muslim-owned web hosting company in 2001.
In a TV interview, Siddiqi said Gadahn did not discuss any plans to travel to Afghanistan with him when he attended his mosque in 1996 and 1997.
"Who knew about al-Qaida at that time?" he said. "We had no idea of anything like that."
Siddiqi, who was reared in Pakistani religious politics and studied Islam at a Saudi university, made a public appeal for his former pupil to turn himself in to authorities. Siddiqi held the press conference Thursday after FBI agents questioned him.
He told Gadahn he should not get involved with any group that advocates "terrorism." The thin, mild-mannered Siddiqi asserted in an interview that "Islam is the religion of peace."
According to "Silent No More: Confronting America's False Images of Islam" – a book on the Council on American-Islamic Relations' recommended reading list – Siddiqi is regarded as "one of the most respected Muslim leaders" in America.
ISNA's website says its mission is to "advance the cause of Islam and Muslims in North America." It lists training imams as its No. 1 goal.
But critics say ISNA is an extremist group disguised as a moderate group.
ISNA "enforces Wahhabi theological writ in the country's 1,200 officially recognized mosques," said terror expert Stephen Schwartz, author of "The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism." Wahhabism, a puritanical, anti-Western strain of Islam, is the official religion of the Saudi government. It's also practiced by Osama bin Laden.
Members of ISNA's board include controversial New York imam Siraj Wahaj, named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal case last decade against terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman, a.k.a. the Blind Sheikh.
Siddiqi and Wahaj spoke at the Islamic Circle of North America's 2001 convention in Cleveland together with Saudi Shaikh Abdur Rahman al-Sudais, senior imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who has been quoted vilifying Jews as the "scum of humanity" and "the grandsons of monkeys and pigs." The three were scheduled to speak again in December at an Islamic conference in Kissimmee, Fla.
Siddiqi, who writes a weekly column for a Pakistani publication, has spoken at pro-Hezbollah and pro-Hamas rallies, and has supported an Islamic state in the U.S., while praising martyrdom for the Islamic cause, according to the SITE Institute, an anti-terror watchdog group.
On Oct. 28, 2000, Siddiqi issued a stern warning to America during an anti-Israel rally across from the White House. He and other Islamic leaders had organized the demonstration to protest America's pro-Israel policy and to support what they called just resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
"America has to learn," Siddiqi was quoted as saying, "if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Please, all Americans. Do you remember that?"
Then he stressed: "If you continue doing injustice, and tolerate injustice, the wrath of God will come."
Abdurahman Alamoudi, the former American Muslim Council president arrested last year on terrorism-related charges, appeared with Siddiqi at the 2000 protest rally. And he proclaimed: "Hear that, Bill Clinton! We are all supporters of Hamas. I wish to add that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah."
ISNA's secretary-general, Sayyid M. Syeed, is the former director of academic outreach at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Northern Virginia think tank raided in 2002 by federal authorities on suspicion of terror-financing.
The book "Silent No More" describes Syeed, a native of Kashmir, as a "prominent mainstream Muslim."
The FBI fears al-Qaida is recruiting American converts like Gadahn to blend in to American society and not raise security suspicions before carrying out suicide attacks in America.
Agents are searching for Gadahn and six other al-Qaida suspects in an attempt to disrupt a possible al-Qaida plot to attack America again this summer.
U.S. Qaeda Suspect's Troubled Past GARDEN GROVE, Calif., May 27, 2004
Adam Yahiye Gadahn was 17 years old when he walked into the Islamic Society of Orange County and asked for permission to worship there. The farm kid who grew up in a home with Christian roots declared himself a Muslim, ready to immerse himself in his new religion.
But his devotion eventually spiraled into trouble — and an arrest.
"He was becoming very extreme in his ideas and views," said Muzammil Siddiqi, the society's religious director. "He must have disliked something."
The other six alleged al Qaeda operatives whose photos and backgrounds were highlighted Wednesday have been the subject of FBI pursuit for months. Gadahn is the only U.S. native among the seven and the only one whose name was first publicly disclosed Wednesday.
Gadahn's alleged journey from student of Islam to suspected terrorist startled his brother, Omar Gadahn, 17, who first heard the FBI's announcement on the news.
"I don't believe it, but I don't know. Anything is possible," he said at the family home in Santa Ana. His brother "wanted to follow what he believed and that's what he did."
Asked about allegations that his brother might be conspiring to act against the United States, the teen said he'd never heard his brother say anything against the country.
His father Phillip Gadahn says Adam Gadahn always was a seeker and on a Web site under his name he wrote he'd found what he was searching for in Islam, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.
"I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect," he wrote. "Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists."
According to the FBI, Gadahn, 25, attended al Qaeda training camps and served as an al Qaeda translator. The agency said he is being sought for "possible terrorist threats against the United States." He also goes by the names Adam Pearlman and Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki.
Omar Gadahn, a college student, said he hasn't seen his brother in about five years. His mother last spoke to him by phone in March 2001. At that time he was in Pakistan, working at a newspaper, and his wife was about to have a child.
The man's father, Phillip Gadahn, said he didn't think his son had been a part of a terrorist organization. He told a local television station that FBI agents told him his son was not wanted and no arrest warrant had been issued for his son's arrest.
"I knew he'd been out of the country, and I thought he was settling down," he said. "I didn't imagine he was involved in anything. ... I'm not sure the FBI really thinks that."
FBI officials in Los Angeles said Adam Gadahn was last known to be in Southern California in 1997 or 1998.
Terror experts say Gadahn, like American Taliban John Walker Lindh, is just what al Qaeda is seeking: a malleable American convert, a true believer who can blend in, reports Whitaker.
Gadahn was home-schooled at the family farm in Riverside County. He did not attend college. Omar said the family was a "more or less Christian household, but no one was particularly religious."
Omar said he doesn't know why his brother converted to Islam. But a statement attributed to Adam Gadahn on several Muslim-related Web sites said he "gradually realized I could not be a Christian."
Gadahn's aunt Nancy Pearlman described her nephew as inquisitive and quick to learn languages. He read about several religions, she said, noting his mother's family is Roman Catholic and his paternal grandfather Jewish.
"He was raised to be religious, to believe in a God," Pearlman said outside her Los Angeles home. "He made his own choice. We all make our own choices in life."
"There was no indication he was involved with terrorists at all," Pearlman added. "He was never fanatical. I never saw it in him."
The other six suspects discussed by federal authorities on Wednesday were Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a Saudi native who used to live in South Florida; Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of the Comoros Republic; Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian who is under indictment for the 1998 embassy attacks; Amer El-Maati, born in Kuwait and wanted by the FBI for questioning; and Abderraouf Jdey, a Tunisian who was among five men who left suicide messages on videotapes recovered in Afghanistan.
Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page A03
GARDEN GROVE, Calif. -- A few things struck Haitham Bundakji about the brown-eyed teenager who introduced himself as "Yahya" at the Islamic Society of Orange County nine years ago. He was shy, earnest -- and very much alone.
When he took the vows that marked his formal embrace of Islam, Yahya had to enlist Bundakji, then the mosque's chairman, along with the imam and another employee -- men he barely knew -- as his witnesses. Unlike most converts, Yahya had come to Islam through reading and research, with no close friends in his new faith to guide the way.
Children attend prayers at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, Calif. Adam Gadahn introduced himself there as Yahya. (Damian Dovarganes -- AP)
That quickly changed.
Within a year, Yahya -- born Adam Gadahn to parents of Jewish and Catholic heritage -- had fallen in with a group of young men who prayed regularly at the mosque but also picked ugly political squabbles with the placid, middle-class congregation from the suburbs south of Los Angeles.
Bundakji remembers the men as angry, rigidly pious, and hypercritical of any Muslim who adopted Western clothes or manners. But they were also bright, articulate and well educated. "Very convincing," Bundakji surmised, "to someone like Adam Gadahn."
Now, in hindsight, the mosque leader believes he may have witnessed Gadahn's second conversion -- into a radical Islamist.
This spring, more than five years after the Southern California native told his family he was moving to Pakistan, he resurfaced on an FBI list of seven alleged al Qaeda operatives wanted for possible involvement in plots against the United States. Now some intelligence sources say they believe Gadahn is the masked man seen on a videotape released just before the elections, warning that American "streets will run with blood."
Gadahn's parents, who still live on the goat farm in rural Winchester, Calif., where he grew up, say they cannot tell whether the man on the tape is their son, whom they last heard from a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But they say the FBI's depiction does not resemble the Adam they knew -- a gentle, conscientious boy who enjoyed rock guitar and classical music, who backpacked the High Sierras and traveled to Sweden with a favorite aunt.
"Adam was a very typical teenager," said his aunt, Nancy Pearlman. "There's no story about his upbringing." Pearlman said the family is declining to comment further for now, noting that FBI officials have not issued any public statement linking Gadahn to the video.
FBI investigators have not reached a firm conclusion about whether the person on the videotape is Gadahn, according to an FBI official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. But the official said the FBI is deeply concerned about Gadahn's whereabouts and suspects that he may be involved in al Qaeda-related activities.
An intelligence official said last month that "we have some confidence, but not certainty," that the voice on the videotape given to ABC News was Gadahn's.
But Bundakji, who banned Gadahn from the Islamic Society of Orange County after the young man struck him during an outburst, said he is "100 percent" certain that Gadahn, now 25, is the man in the video whose features are hidden by a scarf and dark glasses.
"I have no doubts in my mind," Bundakji said. "It's his voice, his gestures."
Gadahn came to the Islamic Society via a circuitous path of adolescent inquiry, part of a family tradition of personal and spiritual exploration.
His father, Philip, was the son of a prominent surgeon of Jewish ancestry. Raised agnostic, he dabbled in the '60s psychedelic rock scene before embracing Christianity and changing his last name from Pearlman to Gadahn, which is derived from the biblical name Gideon. He and his wife, Jennifer, abandoned city life for a 40-acre ranch in a remote part of Riverside County, where he learned how to slaughter goats according to Muslim strictures so he could sell the meat at an Arabic market.
Adam was the oldest of their four children, all of whom were schooled at home and exposed to his parents' nondenominational Christianity. But in his teens, Adam went through a period of questioning. In a widely circulated essay that he posted on the Internet in the mid-'90s, Gadahn said he was briefly "obsessed" with heavy-metal music and then turned to Christian radio stations looking for answers. But he decided he could not believe in the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity and began exploring Islamic Web sites and discussion groups.
Children attend prayers at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, Calif. Adam Gadahn introduced himself there as Yahya. (Damian Dovarganes -- AP)
"Having been around Muslims in my formative years," he wrote, "I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be."
While living with his grandparents in suburban Santa Ana, he made his first trip to the nearby mosque in 1995. He introduced himself as Yahya -- the Arabic name for John the Baptist, revered as a great prophet in Islam.
"He was here every day, all day," Bundakji recalled. "He performed the five daily prayers here."
Gadahn even asked Bundakji for a job at the mosque and soon began working as a security guard. It did not last: One night, Bundakji stopped by at 2 a.m. to check on his staff and found Gadahn fast asleep. "So I let him go," he said.
At the time, though, Gadahn was not the center's most troublesome new member. Bundakji, a gregarious man who emigrated to California from Jordan in the late 1960s to attend business school, had grown concerned about a group of seven or eight men who had begun attending prayer services a few years before Gadahn's arrival.
The men -- all in their twenties and thirties, most from Pakistan -- would spend hours at the mosque, praying in a circle and "supposedly studying Islam together," Bundakji said. They wore turbans, long robes and long beards, and they spent a lot of time criticizing other members of the mosque.
"They were very rigid, cruel in talking to people," Bundakji said. "They were radicals, super-orthodox." As mosque chairman, he emerged as a particular target of their wrath. They criticized him for wearing Western clothes, for not wearing a beard, for trying to reach out to local Jewish communities. Seizing on his American nickname, Danny, they circulated fliers around the mosque calling him "Danny the Jew."
Bundakji notes that the mid-1990s were a different era. For all their concerns about the young men, "we didn't think of terrorists or plotting." But the men's attitudes ran sharply counter to the friendly, interfaith face of Islam that Bundakji -- who proudly shows off photos of himself with both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres -- and others at the Islamic Society had worked to promote. So Bundakji tried to disperse them.
"They never really did anything" for the mosque, he said.
By then, the men had drawn Gadahn into their circle. "The anger in his face became like theirs," Bundakji said.
One day in May 1997, Gadahn abruptly stormed into Bundakji's office -- "incited" by the other men, Bundakji believes. "He was screaming and shouting," though Bundakji says he does not know exactly why. And then he slapped the chairman with an open hand.
Gadahn was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, to which he later pleaded guilty, and was barred from the mosque for several months.
He returned briefly in early 1998. Bundakji said he tried to greet the young man but was rebuffed. And shortly thereafter, Gadahn and the rest of the group drifted away from the mosque.
Three years later, after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bundakji says he was visited by FBI agents who showed him photos of potential terrorism suspects. He recognized three of them as the former troublemakers. But he did not see or hear of the young brown-eyed man until this May, when reporters tracked him down to ask about a name he had never heard -- Adam Gadahn. He turned on the television news and recognized the photos as the man he knew as Yahya.
"He can be manipulated very easily to feel good about himself," Bundakji said. "He was pushed to do what you saw on tape."
Staff writer Dan Eggen and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report from Washington.