GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) — Adam Yahihyi Gadahn was 17 years old when he walked into the Islamic Society of Orange County and asked for permission to worship there. The farm boy 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.
Gadahn, who was named Wednesday as one of seven suspected al Qaeda operatives sought by the FBI, later was expelled from the mosque after attacking an employee. Records show he pleaded guilty to assault and battery charges in June 1997 and was sentenced to two days in jail and 40 hours of community service.
“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 suspected 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.
Gadahn’s journey from student of Islam to terror suspect 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 charges that his brother might be conspiring to act against the United States, the teen said he had never heard his brother say anything against the country.
The FBI says Gadahn, 25, attended al Qaeda training camps and served as a translator for the terror network. 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, 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 KCAL-TV 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 Yahihyi Gadahn was last known to be in Southern California in 1997 or 1998.
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 Ghailiani, a Tanzanian who is under indictment for the 1998 U.S. 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.