A 48-minute al Qaeda video message appeared Sept. 2 on various jihadist Web sites and Arabic Internet message boards. Although the video includes comments from al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, California native "Azzam the American," speaking in English, dominates the production, spending most of his time urging Americans to convert to Islam — or suffer the consequences. This is the fourth time Azzam the American, aka Adam Yehiye Gadahn, has appeared in an al Qaeda video, and the first time he is introduced by a top al Qaeda figure, though it seems clear from the different backgrounds on the video that the two men were not recorded in the same place. Although Gadahn unlikely has entered al Qaeda's inner circle, it appears the jihadist network has found a use for the unaccented, colloquial voice of a native American, especially when it wants to address the American people directly. The latest video, produced by al Qaeda's as Sahab
media branch, opens with Gadahn introducing al-Zawahiri. In his four-minute speech, al-Zawahiri addresses the American people, urging them to convert to Islam. Al-Zawahiri then introduces Gadahn, saying he is "one who is concerned about the fate which awaits his people" and that he is "a perceptive person who wishes to lead his people out of the darkness into the light." Al-Zawahiri urges Americans to heed Gadahn's words. Gadahn speaks for the remainder of the video, relating some personal experiences as a Muslim convert living in the United States and urging Westerners, particularly Americans, to convert. "To America and the rest of Christendom we say either repent of your misguided ways and enter into the light of truth or keep your poison to yourself and suffer the consequences in this world and the next," he says. Gadahn, born Adam Pearlman in 1978, grew up in Riverside, Calif., where his family raised and butchered goats in accordance with halal religious requirements for sale to Muslim grocery stores. His father, a Christian who converted from Judaism, changed his name from Pearlman to Gadahn in reference to the biblical figure Gideon. Gadahn was home-schooled by his parents until he was 15. He converted to Islam in 1995 and moved to Pakistan in 1999. Gadahn has appeared in three earlier video messages attributed to al Qaeda, though in the first two his head and face were entirely covered. In his first appearance, in October 2004
, Gadahn threatened the United States with attacks. In September 2005
, he appeared again in a video threatening attacks against the United States and Australia. In July, he appeared unmasked in a segment of a video that featured al-Zawahiri separately. Gadahn performs a function for al Qaeda similar to that of "Tokyo Rose" and "Lord Haw-Haw" for Japan and Germany during World War II. Those people made propaganda broadcasts meant for allied forces and civilian populations over the radio for the purposes of undermining their morale and encouraging pro-Axis sympathies. Because he was raised in the United States, Gadahn can appeal directly to the public without his words having to go through the academic interpretation of a translator. Although Gadahn probably is not close to al Qaeda's inner circle, al-Zawahiri's personal introduction indicates he appreciates the importance of having Gadahn address the U.S. public directly. Closely identifying with Gadahn would not hurt al-Zawahiri's credibility among Muslims, either. Al Qaeda's latest message, titled "An Invitation to Islam," was clearly aimed at convincing Americans to convert to Islam, as Gadahn himself did. This is not a new theme for al Qaeda; its leaders, including Osama bin Laden, have on many occasions made similar invitations to non-Muslims — including U.S. President George W. Bush. Offering the option of conversion could be a way for al Qaeda to justify further attacks against Western targets to the moderate Muslim world. According to Islamic tradition, "He who warns is excused." By occasionally trotting out a Christian convert to Islam, and an American one at that, al Qaeda also is attempting to lure other Westerners into converting. This is another al Qaeda tactic in its battle against the West — though proselytism will not replace violence as a mean to an end.