On Thursday, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, 36, who was raised in Riverside and Orange counties and grew up to be the first American since the World War II era to be charged with treason after he joined al Qaeda, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
Calling himself Azzam the American, or Azzam al-Amriki, Gadahn became the spokesman for al Qaeda to Americans on many videos produced by the terror organization, starting in 2004.
Retracing Gadahn’s history, Gadahn’s father, Philip Pearlman, was the son of Carl K. Pearlman, a secular Jewish urologist who was a well-known philanthropist in Orange County, giving money to help Jews who had suffered in World War II. Philip Pearlman attended UC Irvine in the 1960s, but dropped out after becoming obsessed with psychedelic guitar and moving to Oregon, where he left Judaism and converted to Christianity.
Pearlman moved to a 40-acre goat ranch in Winchester in Riverside County in the 1970s and married Gadahn’s mother, who was raised Catholic. They had four children of whom Gadahn was the oldest; a friend of the youngest child said that the Gadahn home was a “primitive wooden shack.”
Gadahn, home-schooled, left his parents when he was 16 and moved in with his grandparents in Santa Ana. He later admitted that he first looked to death metal for spiritual answers, then Christian radio, then visited Islamic websites and Internet discussion groups. Meeting two radical Islamists at the Islamic Society of Orange County, Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab, who hosted Omar Abdel-Rahman before he was arrested and convicted for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Gadahn was converted to Islam in 1995. He soon was visiting Pakistan and made friends with Al Qaeda officials, where he was first used as a translator.