September 8, 2016 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 102

Al-Qaeda's U.S.-Born Leader Adam Gadahn And 9/11

September 8, 2016 | By Steven Stalinsky*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 102

On April 23, 2015, the White House announced that Adam Gadahn, known as Al-Qaeda's American spokesman and a major figure in the organization's media apparatus, including its media wing Al-Sahab, had been unintentionally killed in a January 2015 U.S. drone attack in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.[1] Gadahn had been charged with treason in October 2006 - the first U.S. citizen to be so charged since World War II. 

In 2004, at age 26, Gadahn made it to the FBI's most wanted list. He trained in Afghanistan terrorist camps, and was asked by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad to join a plot for a suicide attack outside Baltimore. A sealed indictment dated September 8, 2006 accused Gadahn, aka Al-Qaeda operative "Azzam the American," of helping the terror organization with communications and propaganda, serving as its English translator, and providing it with information about American culture and vulnerabilities. The following month, the U.S. government formally announced treason charges against him. 

Adam Pearlman's parents converted to Christianity and took the last name Gadahn. Adam's first contact with Islam came when his father sold meat he had slaughtered to Muslim halal markets. As a 17-year-old, Adam embraced Islam at an Orange County California mosque.  

Both Gadahn's knowledge of American culture and his media skills played a significant role in the development of Al-Sahab, the Al-Qaeda media company; he was one of its key officials. He also laid the groundwork for other homegrown terrorists and for the use of the Internet for cyber jihad. High-ranking members of the Al-Qaeda leadership - even leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri - told Americans to listen to his words. 

In the numerous videos that Gadahn made for Al-Sahab, the 9/11 attacks were a frequent theme. A video released September 12, 2005 showed him noting that "four years after the blessed raids on New York and Washington, we find the people of the West continuing to speculate" about the motivation and objectives behind 9/11 and other major terror attacks. He went on to clarify: "As Sheikh Osama has told you repeatedly, your security is dependent on our security. You can't have one without the other. If you ensure our security, you will have automatically ensured your own... We are Muslims; we love peace but peace on our terms. Peace that is laid down by Islam, not the so called peace of occupiers and dictators." 

Gadahn with image of burning World Trade Center in background 

In an Al-Sahab video released September 10, 2006, titled "Knowledge Is For Acting Upon - The Manhattan Raid," Gadahn noted that "all the brothers who took part in the raids on America were dedicated, strong-willed, highly motivated individuals with a burning concern for Islam and Muslims... All of them had lived and studied in the West. All of them had the world within their reach if they had wanted it. But how could they live with themselves if they were to enjoy this worldly life while their Ummah [Muslim nation] burns... In hindsight, everything that Al-Qaeda was doing was preparation for the Manhattan and Washington raids and the expected crusader invasion..."

Another video, titled "Mujahideen Don't Target Muslims" and released December 12, 2009, featured Gadahn criticizing the Arab media for floating 9/11 conspiracy theories, underlining that Al-Qaeda deserved full credit for the attacks. A March 7, 2010 video titled "A Call to Arms" showed him stating: "As the blessed operations of September 11th showed, a little imagination and planning and a minimal budget can turn almost anything into a deadly, effective and convenient weapon which can take the enemy by surprise and deprive him of sleep for years on end."

Finally, in an October 24, 2010 video, he encouraged "Muslim brothers residing in the states of the Zio-Crusader coalition" to carry out lone wolf attacks at home, saying: "My brothers: Know that jihad is your duty as well, and that you have an opportunity to strike the leaders of unbelief and retaliate against them on their own soil... Here you are in the battlefield, just like heroes before you, like Muhammad Atta and his fellow [9/11] pilots..."

On June 25, 2015, two months after his death was announced, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) published a special issue of its English-language magazine Resurgence featuring a lengthy interview with Gadahn.[2] In the interview, which stretches over 80 pages, Gadahn talks about his youth and his conversion to Islam, his radicalization and turn to militancy, and his experiences as a new recruit in Al-Qaeda's training camps. He also discusses a wide range of topics on the global jihad movement, such as his and Al-Qaeda's attitudes to the Islamic State (ISIS).

The interview also focuses on the 9/11 attacks; Gadahn notes that as soon as he joined Al-Qaeda, he was "immediately" brought to one of the organization's main training camps in Afghanistan to train with some of the "muscle men" of 9/11; that he had met some of the 9/11 planners and attackers; that his initial reaction to the attacks was "exhilaration" as well as "apprehension"; that some people had had "prophetic dreams" predicting 9/11; that following the fall of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad had "hosted and sheltered" him and his "emigrant brothers"; and more.

Cover of Resurgence Summer 2015 issue featuring Gadahn 

The following report highlights Gadahn's statements in his Resurgence interview on the subject of 9/11. They are excerpted from the forthcoming book American Traitor - The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda's U.S.-Born Leader Adam Gadahn 

As Soon As He Joined Al-Qaeda, He Was Taken "Immediately" To Mes Aynak Training Camp Where 9/11 "Muscle Men" Trained

Resurgence: "We'll delve into the topic of Takfeerism in more detail later (Allah willing), but right now, let's return to the moment you joined Al-Qaeda. What happened when you were introduced to Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Misri (may Allah preserve him)?"

Gadahn: "As I recall, he asked me a few questions. Then he handed me over to Brother Khallad (Waleed bin Attash) and Sheikh Abu Al-Faraj Al-Libi (may Allah deliver them), who took me immediately to one of the main Al-Qaeda training camps at that time, which was located at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar province. There I was enrolled at once in an extremely difficult course which had already started some days or even weeks before. This course was taught by a tough drill sergeant known as Salahuddin the Iranian - who may have been a Baloch or a Kurd or a Persian convert from Shi'ism - assisted by a (not-so-tough) Tanzanian brother called Abu Qatada. The focus was on close-range fighting using martial arts techniques and light weapons like knives and pistols. From what I gathered from the other brothers enrolled in the course, it was meant to train new bodyguards for Sheikh Osama bin Laden (may Allah have mercy on him). However, I later came to the conclusion - two years later, to be exact - that it was meant to train the 'muscle men' for the September 11th operations! And Allah knows best."

Resurgence: "So did you finish the course?"

Gadahn: "No, I was dismissed by the instructor two days later! And for the record, I was by no means the only one to be expelled from the course or drop out of it, because as I said, it was extremely diffi­cult. Moreover, no one actually 'completed' the course, since it ended up being cut short due to the camp being closed down."

Osama bin Laden firing a rifle. Source: Resurgence, Summer 2015, p. 32. 

At Training Camp, He Reacts To 9/11 Attacks With "Surprise, Amazement, And Exhilaration" - "I Had No Doubts Whatsoever About Who Was Behind Them"

Resurgence: "Aameen. Now for the obligatory question without which no interview would be complete: how did you hear about the September 11th operations and what was your reaction?"

Adam: "Hmm. Let's see... It was about 5:30 in the afternoon Qandahar time. I had just returned home from the bazaar, and when I turned on the radio and tuned it to the BBC, the first thing I remember hearing was the host was asking his guests, 'Who could have done an operation like this?' My first thought was that the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud had been confirmed and they were now trying to digest the news, because as you know, he had been the target of an attack two days before and the word around town was that he was in fact dead, contrary to official claims of him being lightly injured. But as I listened further to the broadcast, it became clear that they were talking about something else altogether, something bigger - much bigger.

"Slowly and piece by piece, the picture began to develop: New York, Washington, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, hijacked passenger aircraft, etc.; and I think it was when the announcer confirmed that the second WTC tower had just collapsed and that both towers were now down that the enormity of the whole thing really hit me. As for my reaction, it was a mix of surprise, amazement and exhilaration as well as some apprehension, at least in the very beginning. The magnitude of the operations, the unprecedented damage they caused and the fact that I had no doubts whatsoever about who was behind them made me entertain the possibility that Qandahar could be the target of American aggression that very night! The feeling passed, however, after I calmed down a bit and was able to think things over in a rational manner."

Resurgence: "What was the reaction of those around you to the operations?"

Gadahn: "Many people didn't sleep that night. I certainly didn't. There was a celebratory atmosphere, with cars full of mujahideen driving around and groups of brothers walking and talking in the streets. People were congratulating each other on this incredible and historic victory with which Allah had favored us. I remember some brothers said that now that Allah had blessed them to see America's nose rubbed in the dirt and the myth of its invincibility debunked, they were totally 100% ready for martyrdom: i.e., after an experience like this, what more could they possibly want from this worldly life? That was a sample of the reaction of the brothers in Al-Qaeda in particular and the Arabs and non-Afghan muhajireen [foreign fighters] in general.

"As for the Afghan brothers, I will relate one story to give you a sense of their reaction. It was about a week after the operations - and perhaps just a day or two after the announcement of the death of Massoud - and I was walking along the main road when a driver stopped his car and offered me a ride home. He was an older Talib - perhaps in his mid-forties - whose leg had been amputated and who wore a black turban. As soon as I got into the car, he began to talk excitedly about the September 11th operations and the attack on Massoud, and how the Arab mujahideen were the best mujahideen in the world (he thought I was an Arab); and this continued for the entire duration of the ride (actually only about two minutes because he picked me up close to home). And as I was about to get out of the car, he told me one more thing which struck me: he told me he wanted to carry out a martyrdom operation too and asked if I could help him! So if this was the direction the Afghans were going in even before the Crusader invasion of Afghanistan, it's no surprise then that the martyrdom operation would later become an important weapon of the Afghans in their blessed Jihad against America and her allies and puppets.

"There's another amusing anecdote I'd like to mention in the context of people's reaction to the operations. I was with David Hicks ('Abu Muslim the Australian' - may Allah guide him)[3] a few weeks after the operations, perhaps just before the American bombing began, and I asked him jokingly if he had ever thought he would live to see the start of World War 3, to which he replied, 'Yes, but I didn't think it would be started by people who eat naan (Afghan flatbread) and drink chai (Afghan green tea)!' In other words, he didn't expect it to be started by people of such modest means and simple lifestyles." 

On 9/11 Attackers: Al-Ghamdi "Was A Cheerful Guy"; Al-Haznawi Served As "Master Of Ceremonies At A Wedding Party"

Resurgence: "Did you know any of the martyrs of the September 11th operations?"

Gadahn: "I knew a couple of the brothers fairly well, specifically Brother Julaybeeb (Hamza Al-Ghamdi may Allah accept him),[4] who was a cheerful guy who was always helping out with cooking and other chores, and Brother 'Urwah Al-Taaifi (Hani Hanjour - may Allah accept him),[5] who spent some time with us on the Qarabagh frontline north of Kabul, and who I remember asked me once while we both were at the Ghulam Badshah guesthouse (which was located in the Karte Parwan neighborhood of Kabul) about domestic flights in America and whether security on them was less strict than on international flights, to which I replied in the affirmative. So it seems he had already been recruited for the operation by that time (late 1999).

Gadahn met Osama bin Laden (top) and 9/11 attackers (highlighted in yellow by MEMRI), clockwise from bottom left: Hani Hasan Hanjour, Hamza Al-Ghamidi, and Abdul Aziz Al-Omari, as well as Ahmad Al-Haznawi, center. Source: Resurgence Summer 2015, p. 75.  

"By the way, Hani Hanjour is - as far as I know - the only one of the four pilots to have received flight training and a commercial pilot's license before preparations commenced for the operation, which perhaps explains how he was able to seemingly effortlessly execute the difficult 330-degree turn and high-speed, low-altitude approach needed to hit the Pentagon, but the irony is that the conspiracy theorists insist on portraying him as a novice student with poor piloting skills in order to support their theory that a missile hit the Pentagon and not a plane!

"As for the other brothers, I must have seen or met most of them either in Kabul or in Qandahar, but I really can't recall any of them, other than Brother Al-Jarraah Al-Ghamdi (Ahmad Al-Haznawi - may Allah accept him) who I am able to place only because he was the master of ceremonies at a wedding party that was held at the airport complex. I may also have exchanged greetings with Brother Abu Al-Abbas Al-Janoobi (Abdulaziz Al-Omari - may Allah accept him) during a visit to the offices of as-Sahab in Qandahar." 

"Allegations Concerning The Un-Islamic Character And Behavior" Of The 9/11 Attackers "Were A Deliberate Attempt... [To] Keep Muslims From Sympathizing With Those Behind Them And Emulating Them"

Resurgence: "Speaking of conspiracy theorists, one of the claims they have often put forward as 'proof' of the falseness of the official version of 9/11 is that that some of those alleged to have planned and carried out the operations were 'known' to have engaged - in the period in which they were supposed to be preparing for the operations - in forms of sin and debauchery inconsistent with what one would expect to be the behavior of Muslims about to become martyrs for Islam. Does this oft-repeated claim have any factual basis?"

Gadahn: "I think rumors and allegations concerning the un-Islamic character and behavior of the heroes of September 11th were a deliberate attempt by certain parties to confuse people about the operations and keep Muslims from sympathizing with those behind them and emulating them. I know for a fact that a number of the aspersions cast on the character of the September 11th brothers are totally baseless.

"For example, the enemies claim that Brother Ziad Jarrah - may Allah accept him - had a Turkish 'girlfriend' in Germany who he continued to visit and correspond with until shortly before the execution of the operations. But I heard from none other than Brother Said Bahaji, one of the members of the so-called 'Hamburg Cell,' that she was in fact Ziad's legal wife whom he had married according to Islamic law; however, their marriage was not registered with the government, which led the enemies to call her his 'girlfriend.'

"Similarly, Commander Khalid Sheikh Muhammad - may Allah deliver him - is sometimes described as having been some sort of irreligious, womanizing playboy, when in fact everyone who knows him knows he is a devoted family man with a great love for Islam from an early age. You can see his zeal for Islam clearly in the words of Sheikh Abdullah 'Azzam (may Allah have mercy on him), who, in an article in Al-Jihad Magazine eulogizing 'Aabid Sheikh Muhammad (Khalid's brother who was martyred in the Afghan Jihad against the Russians - may Allah have mercy on him) mentions that he (i.e. Sheikh Abdullah Azzam) spent time during one of the major battles with Khalid, whom he called 'the Secretary,' and that Khalid loved to listen to Koranic recitation, and that both he and Khalid each tried to finish reciting the entire Koran in seven days, which is how the Prophet - peace and blessings of Allah be upon him - used to recite it. Obviously, this is not the description of a man with a superficial connection to Islam. And those who want to read more can find Sheikh 'Azzam's eulogy of 'Aabid Sheikh Muhammad in a compilation of articles and transcripts entitled 'Ushaaq Al-Hoor (Lovers of Houries)."

Photo of New York City skyline during 9/11 attacks. Source: Resurgence, Summer 2015, p. 77. 

Two "Prophetic Dreams" He Heard About Prior To 9/11

Resurgence: "One of the things brothers talk about in connection with September 11th is the prophetic dreams which were seen by a number of people before the operations. Can you tell us about some of these dreams?"

Gadahn: "Yes. One dream I overheard being related second-hand in late 1999 while at the Ghulam Badshah guesthouse went something like this: 'A brother saw in his dream that he was flying, and he entered a large building or a tower, and then an angel struck the building with his wing, and it fell down.' This was around the same time that Brother 'Urwah asked me about security on flights; and some of the other pilots may also have been staying in Kabul then. Another dream which was related to me just a few months before the operations, and which I heard directly from the mouth of the brother who saw it, was as follows: 'I saw New York City, with its famous skyline, but the city was empty and devoid of life, like a ghost town.'

"The brother interpreted it as meaning that there might be some sort of an attack on New York City which might cause the city to be evacuated, an interpretation which I took with a grain of salt at the time! I should mention that the brother who saw this dream had absolutely nothing to do with the operations and would not have known anything about them.

"And I totally forgot about this dream until one of the brothers reminded me of it a few days after September 11th. There was at least one other dream I heard before the operations involving towers and some sort of aircraft, again seen by someone with no connection to the operations and (moreover) no connection to Al-Qaeda - he was a businessman visiting from the Arabian Gulf - but the two I have mentioned here are the most direct and explicit and the ones which have stayed with me over the years. I should point out in this context that these sorts of visions were not limited to the run up to September 11th; rather, they were regularly seen before other major operations as well, to the extent that Sheikh Usama had to forbid people from relating any dreams they might have had just before the attack on the destroyer USS Cole, because so many people were seeing dreams about attacks on ships and Jihad at sea that the Sheikh was afraid that the operation would be compromised or uncovered by the enemies if they got wind of this 'chatter'!" 

After 9/11 And Fall Of Islamic Emirate In Afghanistan, 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad And Family "Hosted And Sheltered" Gadahn And His "Emigrant Brothers"

Resurgence, Summer 2015, p. 79. 

Resurgence: "How was your time in Pakistan after the fall of the Islamic Emirate?"

Gadahn: "While in Pakistan, I and my emigrant brothers were blessed by Allah to have numerous Ansaar (supporters) who combined Nusra (support) with Hijrah (emigration), Jihad and Istishhaad (seeking of martyrdom), and who hosted and sheltered us and did their best to take care of all our needs despite the difficulties and risks. We are greatly indebted to them all, and if I could, I would mention and thank all of them by name, but because I know that naming them could compromise their security, I will only mention a few of those who have embraced martyrdom or will not be harmed by being mentioned: [Gadahn lists and details a number of individuals]... Commander Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (may Allah deliver him) and his nephews, family and friends (may Allah accept their martyrs and free their captives)." 

Among Those He Was "Most Inspired Or Affected By" Gadahn Lists Leading Al-Qaeda Figures - Including Current Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri

Resurgence: "Amongst your teachers and instructors over the years, who has inspired or influenced you most?"

Gadahn: "I think those I have been most inspired or affected by were by and large the scholars and students of knowledge, whether those whom I studied under, like Sheikh Abu Hafs Al-Mauritani, Sheikh Abu Abdullah Al-Muhajir and Sheikh Abu Yusuf Al-Mauritani (may Allah accept him), or those I consulted with in matters of 'aqeedah and fiqh and from whose fatwas I have benefited, like Sheikh Abu Al-Waleed Al-Ansaari, Sheikh Esa and Sheikh Mansoor Al-Shami (may Allah accept him), as well as those who I came to know later on and work with and consult not only in matters of religion but also in matters of media and policy, like Sheikh 'Attiyatullah and Sheikh Abu Yahya - may Allah accept them - and our beloved Ameer Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri - may Allah preserve him - who has never been sparing nor stingy in offering me encouragement and advice as well as constructive criticism whenever needed.

"I think Sheikh Abu Mus'ab Al-Suri also deserves mention in this context. Another person really dear to me and close to my heart is Sheikh Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi (may Allah accept him), the ameer of Khalden, although he wasn't really one of my teachers, but he was a really nice person who I looked up to; and the same goes for Abu Zubaidah, Sheikh Abu Hafs Al-Misri (may Allah have mercy on him), Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and a number of other Sheikhs, commanders and brothers too many to mention here. And last but not least, I have to make special mention of the director of As-Sahab, who has taught me a lot about media work." 

Meeting With Bin Laden

Also in the interview, Gadahn spoke of meeting Osama bin Laden numerous times, even of sharing meals with him. "There was an occasion," he added, "where I acted as translator between Shaykh Usama and a group of brothers who had come from Pakistan. I also attended a number of gatherings and events at the Qandahar airport complex (aka Tarnak Farms), where Shaykh Usama lived. One of the memories I have of those gatherings is the day on which were taken those famous pictures of Shaykh Usama dressed in white and firing a Kalashnikov from a crouching position with his bodyguards and other brothers lined up behind him (I'm the one on the Shaykh's right who is wearing a white turban, long green shirt and black shoes and has his hands crossed behind his back)."

Referring to the letters taken from bin Laden's compound in Abottabad, Pakistan after his assassination, he said that he was glad that they showed bin Laden's concern for the wellbeing of the Al-Qaeda fighters, and added: "The Shaykh would also regularly inquire about the conditions of the Mujahideen in the various regions, whether in terms of supplies, finances, their security situation or even their marital status and how often they were able to visit their families."

*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).


[1], April 23, 2015.

[3] David Hicks is an alleged terrorist who was held at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2007. In 2007 he pleaded guilty to attempted murder and to providing material support for terrorism in exchange for a transfer to an Australian prison, but is now attempting to have his conviction overturned. See, January 23, 2015.

[4] Hamza Al-Ghamdi was on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center's south tower, the second of the two planes to hit the World Trade Center buildings.

[5] Hani Hanjour was on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

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