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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Report: Adam Gadahn Arrested in Pakistan

Adam Gadahn's latest video, released today

CNN says, quoting a Pakistani official, that Adam Gadahn, the American Al Qaeda also known as Azzam the American, has been arrested in Pakistan. Given past misinformation from Pakistanis, let's wait for confirmation, but if true, this is huge.

CNN's is currently reporting Gadahn was arrested in Karachi, and U.S. officials have not yet confirmed the arrest.

Gadahn is an extremely important figure in Al Qaeda. He is largely responsible for the rejuvenation of Al Qaeda's media operations after September 11, and he worked his way up through the hierarchy through his media savvy and prowess at video editing. He is responsible for several interesting media experiments out of Al Qaeda's media arm.

Gadahn is also important because for at least several months he was in close proximity to Ayman Al Zawahiri, a conclusion I draw from their joint media releases during 2007, which showed very similar production values. In recent months, however, the production values on their media releases have diverged, suggesting that Zawahiri has relocated.

Consistent with this, CNN is reporting that Gadahn may have been on the outs with Al Qaeda's senior leadership. If that falling out is real, and based on intellectual content rather than sloppy spycraft, I would suggest that it has to do with the following sentiment from today's video release:

We should look for targets which epitomize Western decadence, depravity, immorality and atheism, targets which the enemy and his mouthpieces will have trouble trying to pass off to the conservative Muslim majority as illegitimate targets full of innocent people. And finally, we mustn’t allow our lawless enemies to provoke us with their evil, sadistic and murderous crimes into crossing the boundaries laid down by Allah and His Prophet or doing anything which may have negative repercussions on the image of the Jihad and reputation of the Mujahideen.

In this quote and in other recent speeches by Gadahn, the American has been distancing himself from the "takfiri" element of Al Qaeda which justifies killing Muslims, along with virtually any other atrocity, in the name of the cause.

However, I'm not sure the rift -- if rift there be -- is ideological. During the period that Gadahn was seen to be close to Ayman Al Zawahiri, the senior Al Qaeda leader was subjected to several close calls, Predator strikes that hit sometimes within hours of Zawahiri's departure from safehouses.

Further food for thought: U.S. and Pakistani forces have recently put extreme pressure on Al Qaeda's media distribution channels. There have been several significant developments in this respect.

After Jordanian double-agent Abu Dujana bombed a CIA facility in Afghanistan, his video will was released by Al Qaeda to Al Jazeera, but its distribution online was disrupted by coalition operations, my sources indicate.

The video was promised for distribution by Internet jihadi operatives, but it was suppressed for weeks. The video was eventually released, several days ago. Almost immediately after it hit the Web, a massive cyber assault knocked out nearly all of the top-tier jihadist forums.

It seems to me that all of this is likely not coincidental to Gadahn's arrest.

I'm available for anyone who needs a quote on this. Contact information here.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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