American Al-Qaida Member Killed In Strike Was Star Of Propaganda Videos

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The White House said Thursday that anti-terror operations inadvertently killed two American members of al-Qaida, Adam Gadahn and Ahmed Farouq, in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And more now on those two American men killed who were long-standing members of al-Qaida. Ahmed Farouq was well known to intelligence officials, but not the general public. The propagandist Adam Gadahn was from California and was featured in some of al-Qaida's earliest videos. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Before the January attacks on an al-Qaida compound near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, intelligence officials believed with near certainty that a major al-Qaida leader had set up shop there. U.S. officials tell NPR that while it wasn't clear who the leader was, the way al-Qaida was protecting him suggested he was important. Officials say he indeed did turn out to be a key al-Qaida operative born in the United States.

RICHARD BARRETT: In mid-January the al-Qaida leadership announced the death of Ahmed Farouq who was a deputy head of their new al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Richard Barrett is a senior vice president at the Soufan Group and used to track al-Qaida for British intelligence.

BARRETT: He was a pretty important person, considered by Osama bin Laden himself as an up-and-comer.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He was mentioned in some of the letters found in the bin Laden compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden wrote that he ought to be considered for membership in al-Qaida's main governing body, its shura council. Better known in the U.S. was this man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM GADAHN: Cease all interference in the religion, society, politics and governance of the Muslim world, and leave us alone.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adam Gadahn, a pudgy 30-something who transformed himself from a Southern California heavy-metal rock enthusiast to an al-Qaida media director. It was unclear when he actually joined the terrorist group officially or when he started calling himself Azzam the American, but he certainly got the attention of U.S. officials with pronouncements like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GADAHN: A single word of American protest shall be silenced by a thousand Islamic bombs.

JUAN ZARATE: My name is Juan Zarate. I'm the former deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Gadahn was one of the people counterterrorism officials like Zarate kept tabs on. He didn't have an operational role in al-Qaida, but he put a Western face on what the group was doing. And he was also close to Osama bin Laden.

ZARATE: You did see correspondence between Gadahn and bin Laden surrounding propaganda and overarching strategy. And you saw Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaida's number-two and now its leader, actually offering open support for Gadahn and his mission and explaining to American audiences that they needed to listen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But both of these men, Gadahn and Farouq, killed in separate drone strikes, were American. Gadahn lived in Orange County, Calif., until his early 20s. Farouq was born in the U.S. and moved to the Middle East when he was still a child. And that presents a problem for the White House. The summary killing of Americans would violate the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process to U.S. citizens accused of crimes. Officials went to great lengths to say they didn't know that either man was present when they ordered the attacks. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.