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Suspect on FBI’s List Has Ties to California

Times Staff Writers

One of the seven people identified Wednesday by the FBI as being suspected of having terrorist ties was born in California, lived in Garden Grove and was arrested there in 1997 on suspicion of assaulting a local Islamic leader, officials said.

“Adam Yahiye Gadahn is being sought in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States,” the FBI said. “Although the FBI has no information indicating this individual is connected to any specific terrorist activities, the FBI would like to locate and question this person. He should be considered armed and dangerous.”

Gadahn, 25, lived in Garden Grove in the 1990s after apparently growing up on a goat farm in rural Riverside County. The FBI said he converted to Islam as a youth, left the United States around 1998, and later was associated with senior Al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubeida in Pakistan and attended training camps in Afghanistan.

“He is known to have performed translations ... as part of the services he has provided to Al Qaeda,” the FBI said.

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The FBI said Gadahn had used numerous aliases, including Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki, Abu Suhayb, Yihya Majadin Adams and Adam Pearlman.

In May 1997, when he was 18, Gadahn was arrested on allegations of attacking Haitham “Danny” Bundakji, a well-known leader at the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove.

Police said Gadahn had been fired from his position as a security guard at a local mosque after he was caught sleeping on the job. They said that he persisted in hanging around the mosque after he was fired, and that when Bundakji confronted him, Gadahn punched the leader in the face and the right shoulder. Bundakji, who was 56 at the time, was not seriously injured.

Gadahn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of assault and battery and was sentenced to two days in jail, time already served. He also was ordered to perform five days of community service, but he failed to do so, according to court records. Because of this, there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

Muzammil Siddiqui, religious director of the Orange County society, said Gadahn was asked to stay away from the society’s facilities after the attack on Bundakji.

“He was becoming very extreme in his ideas and views,” Siddiqui said. “He must have disliked something.”

He described Gadahn as “depressed” and “not very stable.... He did not associate with people very much.”

Gadahn’s brother, Omar Gadahn, 17, said in an interview at his home in Santa Ana that he was startled by the FBI’s accusations. “I don’t believe it, but I don’t know,” Omar Gadahn said. “Anything is possible.... He wanted to follow what he believed, and that’s what he did.”

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Gadahn’s aunt, Nancy Pearlman, a Los Angeles Community College District trustee, said she last talked with her nephew by telephone about a year and a half ago. She said that he was in Pakistan at the time, and that he told her he had recently married and had had a child.

“Obviously, he had friends and contacts that I suppose the FBI is interested in,” Pearlman said, adding that she was shocked, horrified and saddened by the FBI’s suggestion that he might be linked to terrorism.

“In my mind, I can’t ever imagine him turning against the United States,” she said.

The FBI is looking at a website posting apparently written by Gadahn in which the author, who identifies himself as Yahiye Adam Gadahn, tells how he became a Muslim and talks of growing up on “an extremely rural goat ranch in western Riverside County.”

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He says his father was a butcher who slaughtered animals according to Islamic dietary practices and sold the meat to an Islamic market in downtown Los Angeles.

“My father was raised agnostic or atheist, but he became a believer in One God,” the writer says. “My mother was raised Catholic.... I and my siblings were/are home-schooled, and as you may know, most home-school families are Christian.”

Neighbors said Gadahn’s grandfather was Dr. Carl K. Pearlman, a well-known Orange County urologist who died in 1998, according to Social Security records.

Carl Pearlman, who was Jewish, received a community-service award in 1985 from the Orange County chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, which has since changed its name to the National Conference for Community and Justice, for his work in the expansion of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.

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On the website, the author says teenage exposure to fundamentalist Christians led him to begin doubting Christianity, “and in the meantime, I had become obsessed with demonic Heavy Metal music, something my family [as I now realize, rightfully so] was not happy with.”

The writer said that because of his growing disenchantment with Christianity, he “began to look for something else to hold onto.

“I found the discussions on Islam to be the most intriguing. I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect, as well as basic human logic.”

The writer said that having been around Muslims during his childhood, he “knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the evangelists paint them to be.”

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He said in November 1995, he went to the Islamic Society of Orange County and told an official he wanted to become a Muslim. “It feels great to be a Muslim!” he wrote.

Describing him as a “sweet, loving individual,” Gadahn’s aunt said he wasn’t fanatical about his adopted religion.

“He’s very intelligent,” she said. “He cares about what’s going on in the world.”

Times staff writers William Lobdell and David Haldane in Orange County, Wendy Thermos in Los Angeles and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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