Adam Gadahn, a.k.a. Azzam al Amriki, has come a long way since his days living on a goat farm and playing in his one-man death metal band Aphasia. The 30-year-old California native has quickly become the American face of al Qaeda — well, he became the face once he stopped wearing a mask. If he were just some lone nut rambling on his vidblog, who would invest an hour to listen to him, let alone do a write-up? But he works for Osama, and that alone gives him at least a paragraph in every media outlet in America.
Azzam’s purpose is to make an appeal to the American people, to explain the current situation in the war and to exhort them to join in supporting al Qaeda and its cause. His message was directed especially to America’s veterans, who will soon begin to suffer from drug addiction, alcoholism, dementia, suicidal tendencies and other “Vietnam syndrome” conditions brought on by the numerous crimes they committed while at war. No worries, he says, Allah will forgive them if they sign onto the jihadist program and abandon the “satanic Crusader Zionist Hindu atheist apostate nexus sitting on the Muslims’ chest.” And if you’ve ever had a nexus on your chest you know how painful that can be.
The video is mostly in English, except for prayers, Koranic passages, and Azzam’s call for attacks during President Bush’s trip to the Middle East this week.
We raise an urgent appeal to our mujahidin brothers in the Muslim Palestine, the Arabian Peninsula in particular, and the region in general, to be prepared to receive the crusader butcher Bush on his visit to Muslim Palestine and the occupied peninsula at the beginning of January. They should receive him not with roses and applause, but with bombs and booby traps.
I am sure that those with a mind to do something like this did not need to be told, and that President Bush will not be making life easy for them by riding through crowds sitting up through the sunroof of his limo. If anything the statement indicates that al-Qaeda has nothing planned, because if they did the last thing they would do is talk about it.
Azzam maintains that the Coalition has been beaten militarily and on the battlefield of ideas. He notes the “unmistakable defeat of America’s crusades in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the crushing blows being taken by its allies, proxies, and puppets around the world.” A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that many Americans may agree with him. A quarter of the poll’s respondents believe that the terrorists are winning the war on terror, and 27 percent believe that neither side is winning. Only 43 percent believe that the U.S. and its allies are prevailing. This is down from 47 percent in November but much better than last July when the us-or-them results were split at 36-percent each. A year ago, the terrorists had a slight edge.
But one strains to find evidence of the terrorists’ progress. They have not been able to achieve any of their stated strategic objectives, such as expelling the United States from the region, overthrowing even one of the local governments (i.e., the “America-loving Islam-hating club of tyrants and torturers”), uniting the Muslim world under their leadership, or destroying the state of Israel. As well, they have not been able to mount a significant attack on the U.S. homeland since 9/11. Note that in 2003 Khalid Sheik Mohammed reportedly asked Azzam to mount a suicide attack in Maryland, but the American gave the lame excuse that he had recently gotten married and his wife was pregnant. See, Azzam, you just don’t have the experience to be credible. Some people just talk about change, others are ready for martyrdom on day one.
Azzam’s appeal for attacks on President Bush points to what has always struck me as a good metric for determining which side is winning the war. Our president, and Western leaders generally, can travel openly to the part of the world the terrorists consider their heartland, but their leaders, and Osama bin Laden in particular, cannot travel to our part of the world. In fact they cannot show their faces in public anywhere at any time, nor have they for over six years. Explain to me again why they are winning?
Azzam’s message is unlikely to resonate with most Americans. The al-Qaeda leadership probably figures that since Azzam grew up here he can craft a speech that will generate at very least intellectual curiosity, if not good will. But given his curious background I suspect Adam had a hard time talking to regular folks even before he was a religious fanatic. Rolling his eyes about “the non-Biblical trio of gods which you euphemistically refer to as a ‘Trinity’” and shaking his finger that those who make compromises with maryolotry, iconolotry, “not to mention latent idolotry” (naturally, can’t forget that one) just doesn’t inspire the imagination. Claiming that when Jesus returns he will “force the followers of other religions to enter Islam or else” is more likely to produce mirth than conversion.
In another attempt to reach out, he criticized the Coalition for handing over local administration in Iraq to tribal leaders and clerics. “This, to put it in terms you can understand,” Azzam said, “is the equivalent to a 160,000 plus strong occupation army of Timothy McVeigh clones handing over responsibility for the security of Nebraska to police forces made up of Robert Hawkins replicas led by a group of David Koresh’s in turbans and black robes.” Well, sure, that makes as much sense as anything else Azzam has to say.
Azzam has many complaints about the United States and its hypocrisy. We flood the Middle East with “filthy western media” to enslave Muslims. Our angry celebrity female activists – like “the former Mrs. Woody Allen” – only spring into action when their protests help “serve [American] colonial designs.” Yeah, he really has his finger on the pulse of America. He also denounced the profit motive in humanitarian relief efforts, asking, if it is not a lucrative field, “how else to explain why some people turn so violent when they are turned down for missionary training?” I had been wondering about that myself after the many shootings at seminaries. This statement was such a bizarre non-sequitur that it might give some insight into Azzam’s psychology — one wonders if he was rejected as a missionary back when he was exploring evangelical Christianity, and this drove him to his current radicalism. He had to wind up somewhere, he has “True Believer” written all over him.
But hardly anyone watched the full Adam Gadahn video. The parts that got press coverage were the threat to President Bush, and the scene near the end in which Azzam partially tore up his passport in a “symbolic protest” and “rejection of citizenship.” Pretty bold move. According to 18 U.S. Code section 1543, the punishment for mutilating a passport is prison “for not more than 25 years (if the offense was committed to facilitate an act of international terrorism).” The government could use it to indict him if he weren’t already wanted for treason.
– James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University , senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.