American-born al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn has been arrested in Pakistan, according to Pakistani officials. If confirmed, it will be the first high-profile capture of a leader of the extremist group since a civilian government came to office.
Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a U.S. citizen who converted to Islamabad and is wanted in the United States for treason, was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi, two Pakistani officials said.
The report about Mr. Gadahn, 31, who carries a $1-million bounty on his head from U.S. authorities and is featured on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists, came on the same day al-Qaeda released a video message in which Mr. Gadahn called on American Muslims to attack their own country.
It follows a slew of arrests of senior Afghan Taliban commanders in Pakistan in the last few weeks, including the movement's deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Some to see the arrests as a "strategic shift" in Islamabad's position regarding militants, but senior Western policy makers admit they don't know what Islamabad's motives are. "I'm an agnostic at this point... as to whether this was a policy change [by Islamabad]or a serendipitous collection of discrete events," Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan said in a recent interview.
The recent detention of extremists in Karachi and other big Pakistani cities has raised embarrassing questions for the authorities on how they were able to operate there, and led to demands for the capture of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, both believed to be in Pakistan. In the past, it was assumed the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership were in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt or close to the Afghan border in the sparsely populated Baluchistan province.
"This shows that these guys are not all in one place and that the senior leadership is not in the tribal belt," said Kamran Bokhari, director for the Middle East and South Asia at Stratfor, a private U.S.-based intelligence firm. "Pakistan has seen the Afghan Taliban as pliable, useful, but with al-Qaeda, it hasn't had a problem handing them over."
Mr. Gadahn, sometimes calling himself Azzam the American, has appeared in more than a half dozen al-Qaeda videos, calling for attacks on the U.S. and other Western countries, speaking in his American-accented English. It is unclear whether Mr. Gadahn had an operational role in al-Qaeda, beyond his propaganda activities, or whether intelligence gained from recent Taliban arrests played any role in his reported capture.
"He was the gateway to the Western world, for them to communicate in English," said Imtiaz Ali, a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, an independent research organization based in Washington. "It's a huge development," if confirmed.
In his latest broadcast, Mr. Gadahn praised the American Muslim U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, who shot dead 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November.
Early life: Adam Gadahn was born Adam Pearlman, the son of 1960s musician Phil Pearlman. He enjoyed heavy metal music before discovering Islam at age 17.
Radicalism: He moved to Pakistan in 1998, according to the FBI, and is said to have attended an al-Qaeda training camp six years later, serving as a translator and consultant.
Al-Qaeda role: Mr. Gadahn was its chief English-speaking spokesman. In one video, he ceremoniously tore up his American passport.
Accusations: He is the first American to face treason charges in more than 50 years. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
Sources: AP, Bloomberg, Reuters