KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistani security agents have arrested an American al Qaeda spokesman wanted in the United States for treason for threatening violence unless al Qaeda demands are met, Pakistani officials said on Sunday.
News of the arrest of Adam Gadahn, a California-born convert to Islam, came the day a video was released in which he called for Muslims in the United States to launch attacks to undermine the economy, according to a website monitoring al Qaeda announcements.
The capture of Gadahn, believed to be in his early 30s, is the latest in a series of militant arrests in U.S. ally Pakistan that has raised hopes for more concerted action against the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda as U.S. forces battle militants over the border in Afghanistan.
“He was arrested in Karachi recently,” said a Pakistani security agent who declined to be identified.
Another agent said Gadahn was picked up on the outskirts of the southern city with two accomplices.
“It’s an important catch,” said the second agent, who also declined to be identified.
But Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had no information about any such arrest.
A U.S. official said he could not confirm whether reports of Gadahn’s arrest were accurate, adding the United States was working to obtain more solid information. Gadahn has been involved with al Qaeda’s as-Sahab media wing and has appeared in al Qaeda videos wearing robes and a turban and warning the United States that it will face attacks if it does not heed al Qaeda demands.
In the video posted on Islamist websites on Sunday, Gadahn praises Nidal Hasan, the U.S. army doctor who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, an army base in Texas, in November, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors al Qaeda announcements.
He called on Muslims to “undermine the West’s already-struggling economies with carefully timed and targeted attacks,” the SITE group said.
“This is the golden, once in a lifetime opportunity to reap the rewards of jihad and martyrdom ... so unsheathe your sharpened sword,” Gadahn was quoted as saying.
The FBI has been seeking to question Gadahn since May 2004, and the U.S. government has offered up to $1 million in reward money for information leading to his arrest.
Gadahn converted to Islam from a Jewish-Christian family when he was 17 and a few years later moved to Pakistan. He was previously known as Adam Pearlman and grew up on a goat ranch outside Los Angeles.
The 2006 treason charge against him carries a maximum punishment of death.
According to the charges, Gadahn appeared in videos giving al Qaeda “aid and comfort ... with the intent to betray the United States.”
A U.S. Justice Department official said at the time Gadahn appeared to be involved only in propaganda for the Islamist militant group, not in planning attacks.
Pakistan is battling indigenous Taliban militants and has resisted U.S. pressure to launch military offensives against Afghan Taliban factions based in rugged ethnic Pashtun lands on its northwestern border.
Pakistan has arrested several senior members of the Afghan Taliban in recent weeks, including a top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
But Islamabad, apparently nervous of a public backlash in a country where anti-U.S. feeling is running high, has only officially confirmed the arrest of Baradar.
Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Ralph Boulton