Just over four years ago, Adam Gadahn, known as Azzam al-Amriki, . In the letter, Gadahn – who the White House has announced was killed in a US drone stike in January – told the al-Qaida leader that Benjamin Franklin had never been a president of the United States and warned that if he or Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, made the mistake in propaganda speeches, their credibility would suffer.
In his letter, recovered from the house in northern where Bin Laden was staying when he was killed in 2011 by US Navy Seals, Gadahn also offered 20 pages of advice on a range of other topics, from media strategy and the agendas of various global TV networks, to how to rein in off-message local groups around the world which persisted in killing large numbers of fellow Muslims.
Being able to lecture the most-wanted terrorists in the world at quite such length indicated how far Gadahn had risen in the al-Qaida hierarchy, and how far he had travelled from the California farm where he had grown up.
Raised a Christian, he had converted to at 17, which ended a deep interest in death metal. Within three years he was in Pakistan and had connected with al-Qaida.
He had arrived in Pakistan in 1998, the year when al-Qaida earned notoriety for its attacks on US embassies in east Africa. By 2002, Gadahn was involved in the group’s propaganda production unit.
His own efforts at presenting, from 2004, were stilted, but that did not stop him fronting a stream of videos including one called “An invitation to Islam” in 2006, in which he called on non-Muslims in the US and elsewhere to “join the winning side”.
Later, he was credited with introducing references to economic problems in the US into Bin Laden’s speeches. With fluent English and Arabic skills, he was repeatedly deployed to call on Muslims in the west to mount “lone wolf” attacks, a key part of al-Qaida’s strategy as mass casualty attacks became harder to execute.
Gadahn was far from the first convert to become involved with al-Qaida but was perhaps the only one to be admitted to the very inner circle of the group – though some terrorism experts do not believe he was as important as sometimes said. He was charged with treason in 2006.
Officials believe that, like many al-Qaida militants, Gadahn had put down local roots, marrying an Afghan woman and having at least one child by her.
Gadahn, who was 36 when he was killed in January, was one of the younger members of al-Qaida’s senior command.
Though not among the founders of the group, formed in 1988, he was one of the few surviving veterans who were with al-Qaida before the 9/11 attacks. Few will mourn his passing, nor that of the generation he represented.