ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani officials said Sunday they had arrested the American face of al-Qaida, a key militant propagandist, which if confirmed would be the first high-profile capture of a leader of the terrorist group since Pakistan’s civilian government was elected in February 2008.
The officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Adam Yahiye Gadahn, a U.S. citizen from California who converted to Islam, was arrested in the southern port city of Karachi.
However, some officials gave different names for the detained person, including Abu Yahya Mujahdeen al Adam, a Pennsylvania-born militant who’s thought to help command fighters in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence officials said they couldn’t confirm reports of Gadahn’s arrest and thought the Pakistanis may have confused him with al Adam.
Adding to the uncertainty, the militant mouthpiece uses a number of aliases; Pakistani officials have mistaken the identity of militants they’ve detained or killed in the past; some reported deaths and arrests have never been confirmed; and other reports have proved to be wrong.
The news about Gadahn, 31, who has a $1 million bounty on his head from U.S. authorities and is on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists, came on the day al-Qaida released a video in which he called on American Muslims to attack their own country.
The detention follows a slew of Pakistani claims in the last few weeks about arrests of senior Afghan Taliban commanders in Pakistan, including the movement’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
Gadahn, who sometimes calls himself “Azzam the American,” has appeared in more than a half dozen al-Qaida videos, calling in his American-accented English for attacks on the U.S. and other Western countries.
In his latest broadcast, Gadahn praised Muslim U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, who shot and killed 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, in November.
“Nidal Hasan is a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers,” Gadahn said.