al Qaeda supporter killed in Pakistan drone strikes attended Garden Grove mosque

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County man who referred to himself as "Azzam the American" in statements supporting al Qaeda was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan last January.

He was known as Adam Gadahn when he attended a mosque in Garden Grove in the 1990s. The 36-year-old's death caught religious leaders at the mosque off guard.

"He said that he wanted to be Muslim, so we welcome everybody," said Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County.

Siddiqi said he knew the Orange County resident before he became radicalized. Before Gadahn became the spokesman for the terror network and began releasing propaganda videos.

"We do not subscribe to that ideology at all. We condemn terrorism, we condemn terrorists." Siddiqi said. "We stand here for peace and justice. We are surprised that he was killed again because we heard a few years ago that he was killed."

In 2008, a British newspaper reported Gadahn may have been killed in an air strike. On Thursday, U.S. officials said he was killed last January, along with another al Qaeda leader Ahmed Farouq.

In 2006, Gadahn was indicted for treason. He was the first person to be charged with treason against the U.S. government since the World War II era. He was also placed on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List. The federal government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Siddiqi said he can't understand what led Gadahn down this path. He said Gadahn grew up in rural Riverside County and later lived in Orange County.

Siddiqi said Gadahn worked at the Garden Grove mosque as a security guard, but he ran into trouble, not for his ideology, but for sleeping on the job and getting into a fight with one of the leaders in 1997.

"He was taken out. After that we never saw him, never heard from him. He disappeared," Siddiqi said.

Court documents show Gadahn pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery on June 11, 1997. He was sentenced to two days in jail and 40 hours of community service.

Siddiqi said what's also important at this time is to remember the two hostages who were killed in the recent drone strikes: American doctor Warren Weinstein, who was working with an international aid group when he was captured, and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto.
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