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AQ propagandist Adam Gadahn who said US streets would run with 'rivers of blood' wrote he converted because 'Muslims were not bloodthirsty terrorists'

September 4, 2006

MIM: This testimonial about Gadahns conversion to Islam appeared on the website of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Southern California for 11 years until he was put on the FBI's most wanted list for being a member of Al Qaeda. It is worth noting that the Islamic Center of Southern California where Gadahn converted is regarded as a moderate mosque. When asked about the most recent video tape showing Gadahn telling Americans to convert and warning of new attacks the spokesman who knew Gadahn, and obstensibly helped him on his path from teen to terrorist commented "It's a shame"

. And the check's in the mail...

In the Name of Allah, most Compassionate, most Merciful

Becoming Muslim

Yahiye Adam Gadahn

My first seventeen years have been a bit different than the youth experienced by most Americans. I grew up on an extremely rural goat ranch in Western Riverside County, California, where my family raises on average 150 to 200 animals for milk, cheese, and meat. My father is a halal butcher [a butcher who slaughters in an Islamic manner -ed.] and supplies to an Islamic Food Mart a few blocks from the Islamic Center in downtown Los Angeles.

My father was raised agnostic or atheist, but he became a believer in One God when he picked up a Bible left on the beach. He once had a number of Muslim friends, but they've all moved out of California now. My mother was raised Catholic, so she leans towards Christianity (although she, like my father, disregards the Trinity). I and my siblings were/are home-schooled, and as you may know, most home-school families are Christian. In the last 8 or so years, we have been involved with some home-schooling support groups, thus acquainting me with fundamentalist Christianity. It was an eye-opening experience. Setting aside the blind dogmatism and charismatic wackiness, it was quite a shock to me when I realized that these people, in their prayers, were actually praying TO JESUS. You see, I had always believed that Jesus (pbuh) was, at the very most, the Son of God (since that is what the Bible mistranslates "Servant of God" as). As I learned that belief in the Trinity, something I find absolutely ridiculous, is considered by most Christians to be a prerequisite for salvation, I gradually realized I could not be a Christian.

In the meantime, 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 entire life was focused on expanding my music collection. I eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so. I am sorry even as I write this.

Earlier this year, I began to listen to the apocalyptic ramblings of Christian radio's "prophecy experts." Their paranoid espousal of various conspiracy theories, rabid support of Israel and religious Zionism, and fiery preaching about the "Islamic Threat" held for me a strange fascination. Why? Well, I suppose it was simply the need I was feeling to fill that void I had created for myself. In any case, I soon found that the beliefs these evangelists held, such as Original Sin and the Infallibility of "God's Word", were not in agreement with my theological ideas (not to mention the Bible) and I began to look for something else to hold onto.

The turning point, perhaps, was when I moved in with my grandparents here in Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange, California. My grandmother, a computer whiz, is hooked up to America Online and I have been scooting the information superhighway since January. But when I moved in, with the intent of finding a job (easier said than done), I begin to visit the religion folders on AOL and the Usenet newsgroups, where I found discussions on Islam to be the most intriguing. You see, I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect as well as basic human logic. Islam presents God not as an anthropomorphic being but as an entity beyond human comprehension, transcendent of man, independant and undivided. Islam has a holy book that is comprehensible to a layman, and there is no papacy or priesthood that is considered infallible in matters of interpretation: all Muslims are free to reflect and interpret the book given a sufficient education. Islam does not believe that all men are doomed to Hell unless they simply accept that God (apparently unable to forgive otherwise) magnanimously allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross to enable Him to forgive all human beings who just believe that He allowed Himself to be tortured on a cross... Islam does not believe in a Chosen Race. And on and on...

As I began reading English translations of the Qur'an, I became more and more convinced of the truth and authenticity of Allah's teachings contained in those 114 chapters. Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be. Perhaps this knowledge led me to continue my personal research further than another person would have. I can't say when I actually decided that Islam was for me. It was really a natural progression. In any case, last week [November 1995 -ed.]I went to the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove and told the brother in charge of the library I wanted to be a Muslim. He gave me some excellent reading material, and last Friday I took Shahada [accepted the creed of Islam -ed.]in front of a packed masjid. I have spent this week learning to perform Salat and reflecting on the greatness of Allah. It feels great to be a Muslim! Subhaana rabbiyal 'azeem!


Muslim Teen Made Conversion to Fury

Intelligence Sources Say Californian Was on Tape

By Amy Argetsinger

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.

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.

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.

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