NEWSWEEK: Al Qaeda Chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Wanted American Terror Suspect Gadahn to Join Plot to Blow Up Fuel Stations Near Baltimore

Captured Chief Says the Islam Convert Not Eager to Participate in 'Martydom'

Operations, But Was Willing to Help

May 30, 2004, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, May 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Captured Al Qaeda chief Khalid Shaikh
 Mohammed -- "KSM" to his interrogators -- wanted American-born terror suspect
 Adam Yahiye Gadahn to join a plot to blow up fuel stations outside Baltimore,
 according to a May 2003 classified FBI document obtained by Newsweek. Gadahn,
 one of the seven terror suspects displayed by Attorney General John Ashcroft
 last week, had a pregnant Muslim wife at the time and was not eager to
 participate in "martydom" (suicide) operations, KSM reported, but he was
 willing to help out. He says he had last seen Gadahn, who had taken the name
 Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki, in Karachi in October 2002, Newsweek reports in the
 current issue.
     (Photo: )
     KSM, who was captured in Pakistan and taken into custody in March 2003,
 revealed that tightened security post-9/11 had forced Al Qaeda to rethink its
 strategy for penetrating the United States. The terrorists needed operatives
 with American passports and began trying to recruit native-born Americans,
 looking for those living abroad who had converted to Islam or black Muslims
 inside the U.S. One such American was Gadahn, a young convert and alleged
 Qaeda translator, report Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, Washington
 Bureau Chief Dan Klaidman and Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff in
 the June 7 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, May 31).
     Last week everyone, including Gadahn's parents in California, was
 wondering where he'd gone. His father, Philip Gadahn, says he had not seen his
 son for five years and last spoke to him-by phone-shortly after 9/11. Gadahn
 grew up "off the grid," according to his aunt Nancy Pearlman -- no computer,
 no TV.  "I moved out of the city and changed my life, so I changed my name,"
 says Philip Gadahn, whose own father was a prominent Orange County urologist.
 Philip's son Adam was home-schooled, but he rejected the hippie life as a
 teenager. "I became obsessed with demonic heavy-metal music," Adam Gadahn
 explained in a 1995 essay about his conversion to Islam. "I eschewed personal
 cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray."
 Alienated from his parents by 16, Newsweek reports, he moved into the Orange
 County home of his doctor grandfather and began cruising the Web, "looking for
 something else to hold on to."
     Gadahn found Islam and was soon working as a security guard at an Islamic
 center. Fired for sleeping on the job, he was also arrested for punching a
 middle-aged mosque official. After pleading guilty, he fell in with some
 Pakistani men and moved to Afghanistan in 1998, Newsweek reports.
     He got a job publishing an English-language propaganda magazine for the
 Taliban. (Sample headline: The U.N.: World Body or American Pawn?) Gadahn
 appears to have acquired his wife by blunt local methods. According to her
 father, Haji Abdul Ghaffur (interviewed by Newsweek in January 2002), some
 Taliban men with AK-47s showed up at his house in Kabul and essentially
 requisitioned his daughter. She was not displeased. "He was a good man, He
 wasn't cruel to anyone," she told Newsweek.
     According to Qari Saheb, a former driver for Taliban leader Mullah Omar,
 interviewed in January 2002 by Newsweek, Gadahn befriended another American-
 John Walker Lindh, later known by the media as the "American Taliban" after
 his capture in the Afghan war. Gadahn had offered to help Walker find a Muslim
 wife-his own wife's sister. Lindh was interested, but told Gadahn that he
 would marry only when he returned from the front lines. He wound up in an
 American prison.
     It's not clear what happened to Gadahn. An Afghan fighter named Hamdullah
 tells Newsweek that he had run into the American before Kandahar fell in the
 winter of 2001. Hamdullah thought that Gadahn had been "in the air force."
     Newsweek also reports that the White House played a role in the decision
 to go public with the warning about the terror suspects planning attacks on
 the U.S. in the coming months. According to a White House official, President
 Bush signed off on the press conference after meeting with FBI Chief Robert
 Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Attorney General John
 Ashcroft. With the president's poll numbers dropping, the Bush administration
 is surely eager to divert media and public attention from Iraq to the
 terrorist threat.
     But just because the administration may have been playing politics to
 shift attention from its own failings does not mean the terror warnings are
 unwarranted. As a senior administration official explained to Newsweek, "Look,
 sometimes the right thing to do also happens to be the politically expedient
 thing to do." In the past, the FBI has tended to be secretive about terror
 suspects. But in recent months the thinking has shifted. Press conferences and
 Wanted posters can help deter terrorists, the analysts believe. "We have
 intelligence giving us a great deal of confidence that these kinds of [public]
 activities disrupt the terrorists," said one Ashcroft aide, who added, a bit
 defensively, "It's not a PR strategy. It's a counterterrorism strategy."
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SOURCE Newsweek