WASHINGTON (AFP) – An American convert to Islam who appears in Al-Qaeda propaganda videos was indicted for treason by a US grand jury, the first person hit with the charge since the World War II era.
Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki and Azzam the American, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, California for treason and supporting a terrorist organization, the US Justice Department announced.
“A charge of treason is exceptionally severe, and it is not one we bring lightly,” said Deputy US Attorney General Paul McNulty.
“But this is the right case for this charge,” McNulty said. The treason charge brings a minimum five years in prison and a maximum penalty of death.
Gadahn, 28, a native of southern California, has appeared in several videotapes for Al-Qaeda since 2004, praising the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In October that year, he appeared on a 75-minute video threatening new terror assaults.
“Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America’s victims,” he said on the video.
In a video that came out in September last year, he called the 2001 attacks “the blessed raids on New York and Washington” and, noting attacks carried out on Madrid and London, suggested that Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia were future targets.
In the latest tape, broadcast last month on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Gadahn praised the men who carried out the attacks while calling on US soldiers to abandon the US army “and join the winning side”.
McNulty said Gadahn’s support for the “propaganda machine” of Al-Qaeda merited the treason charge, which he called “perhaps the most serious offense for which any person can be tried under our constitution.”
“Terrorists create fear and intimidation through extreme violence. They want Americans to live and walk in fear. They want to demoralize us. That’s why propaganda is so important to them, and why facilitating that propaganda is such an egregious crime,” McNulty said.
McNulty said Gadahn, whose last known address was in Orange County, California, is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
“Adam Gadahn is a US citizen who made a choice to join and act as a propagandist for Al-Qaeda, an enemy of this country responsible for the horrific deaths of thousands of innocent Americans on September 11, 2001,” he said.
Senior FBI official Willie Hulon said Gadahn was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists with the release of the indictment Wednesday.
“Adam Gadahn represents a new breed of home-grown extremist, who has chosen to betray the country of his birth and align with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network,” Hulon said.
Meanwhile a one million dollar reward for his capture is being offered by the US State Department.
“There would be no good justification to delay this indictment when we have seen the building nature of these videos (and) the fact that we have the award now,” said McNulty.
Gadahn is a native of Orange County in southern California, the son of a 1960s Jewish rock musician who converted to Christianity and became a rural goat farmer.
Relatives said he was a normal teenager, a big fan of heavy metal rock music, before he announced his own conversion at 17 and began attending an Islamic center where he is believed to have come under the influence of two foreign-born Islamic radicals.
“I discovered the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect as well as basic human logic,” he wrote on a website.
Gadahn is believed to have left California for Karachi in 1998, and gradually fell out of contact with relatives in the US.