Where's the Beef? Mystery Grows Surrounding Whereabouts of Adam Gadahn

by EVAN KOHLMANN May 20, 2008

Sunday afternoon, al Qaeda's As-Sahab Media Foundation released the second audio recording of Osama bin Laden in the space of only three days - this time, openly addressed "to the Islamic nation." But, perhaps what is most interesting about bin Laden's latest set of audio recordings is not what they contain, but rather, what they inexplicably lack: the English-language subtitles and matching transcript that have, until recently, been a customary feature of professional-quality As-Sahab videos. An analysis of the history of As-Sahab recordings and their evolution over time would seem to indicate that the responsibility for creating these English-language products fell largely on the shoulders of one man alone: Adam Gadahn (a.k.a. "Azzam al-Amriki"), the California native who was recruited by al Qaeda computer specialists living in Garden Grove in the late 1990s, and who later traveled on to Pakistan seeking to join his new hero Osama bin Laden. Gadahn's voice and, more recently, his face have been an integral part of As-Sahab releases since their first video production in 2001, "The Destruction of the U.S.S. Cole" (a.k.a. "State of the Ummah"). He has frequently appeared as a freely identified commentator in As-Sahab videos, with clips of him speaking in English juxtaposed amid footage of Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In January 2008, the U.S. military used a Predator drone to launch an airstrike on a house in Mir Ali, Pakistan, which was suspected to be hiding several high-ranking al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Within days, al Qaeda issued a series of statements and video recordings acknowledging that the airstrike had caused serious casualties, including Abu al-Laith al-Liby--a senior al Qaeda leader considered to be the "Field Commander" in charge of foreign mujahideen military operations across large swaths of southern Afghanistan. But according to NEFA Foundation sources inside Pakistan, the legendary Abu al-Laith was not the only loss suffered in the strike at Mir Ali. These sources indicated that a host of other less-senior-but-still-significant al Qaeda members were also inside the house at the time, including Abu al-Laith's deputy, a Somali holding Australian or U.S. nationality, two Kuwaiti jihadis, and--most interesting of all--none other than Adam Gadahn himself. Al Qaeda has never confirmed nor denied reports of Adam Gadahn's death, and that has only added to the growing mystery surrounding his whereabouts.

This much can definitively be said: there has been a palpable decline in the efforts of As-Sahab to provide English-language translations since the January airstrike in Mir Ali. When As-Sahab recently released a two-part online Q&A session with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, it was only able to produce an English translation for the first segment. Even the limited translations As-Sahab has managed to cobble together recently appear somewhat different linguistically from previous work attributed to Adam Gadahn. What distinctly struck me on Friday was the As-Sahab release of a Bin Laden audio recording specifically addressed "to the people of the West" - most of whom speak little or no Arabic. One would imagine that if As-Sahab were to ever seek to spotlight its foreign language capabilities, this would be the totally obvious occasion. And yet, there has only been silence from al Qaeda in this regard.

For those who are carefully following the ongoing saga of Adam Gadahn, it is worth paying close attention to one upcoming calendar date in particular: the seventh anniversary of 9/11. Gadahn has demonstrated a past penchant for making grandiose public appearances on 9/11, triumphantly gloating over al Qaeda's latest "victories" over its enemies. His continued unexplained absence from As-Sahab releases as this date approaches will only add further weight to the argument that Gadahn was indeed "martyred" alongside Abu al-Laith al-Liby in the far northern reaches of Pakistan. For Gadahn, it has been a long journey and a strange ideological transformation from his younger days in California spent promoting recycling and environmental conservation. If ultimately proven, his death will serve as a lesson for what happens to naive individuals lured into believing there is honor in playing foolish games with guns and bombs.

So, Adam, in the event that you are still out there (alive, kicking, and reading this message), please do drop a line and let us know what has become of you!


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