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American Sought Had '97 Arrest, 'Extreme' Ideas

The "turning point" in Adam Yahiye Gadahn's (search) journey toward Islam was when the Californian got involved in online religious discussions on his grandmother's computer.

"You see, I discovered that the beliefs and practices of this religion fit my personal theology and intellect as well as basic human logic," Gadahn wrote in a statement attributed to him that is posted on several Muslim-related Web sites.

Gadahan — the 25-year-old American who was one of seven suspected Al Qaeda (search) operatives identified Wednesday — began reading English translations of the Quran and continued to research the faith.

"I can't say when I actually decided that Islam was for me. It was really a natural progression," Gadahan wrote.

To read Gadahn's online statement on how and why he became a Muslim, click here.

At some point, according to police reports and the FBI, Gadahn's faith took a potentially violent turn.

Gadahn was 17 years old when he walked into the Islamic Society of Orange County (search) and asked for permission to worship there. His devotion eventually spiraled into trouble — and an arrest.

He was later expelled from the mosque after attacking an employee. Records show he pleaded guilty to assault and battery charges on June 11, 1997 and was sentenced to two days in Orange County jail and 40 hours of community service.

But according to court records, Gadahn failed to perform the community service, so a warrant is still outstanding for his arrest, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In May 1997, when he was 18, Gadahn was arrested on allegations of attacking Haitham "Danny" Bundakji, a well-known leader at the mosque in Garden Grove, the Times reported.

Some reports said police said Gadahn had been fired from his position as a security guard at the mosque after he was caught sleeping on the job.

But Muzammil Siddiqi, the society's religious director, who described Gadahn as tense and depressed, said mosque officials finally had to ask him to leave because of a separate fight with one of the staff. The police were not involved in this altercation and it was unrelated to the other criminal charges.

Police said that he then continued to hang around the mosque and that when Bundakji confronted him, Gadahn punched him in the face and the right shoulder, according to the Times. Bundakji, who was 56 at the time, was not seriously injured.

"He was becoming very extreme in his ideas and views," Siddiqi said. "He must have disliked something."

Gadahn's alleged journey from student of Islam to suspected terrorist startled his brother, Omar Gadahn, 17, who first heard the FBI's announcement on the news.

"I don't believe it, but I don't know. Anything is possible," he said at the family home in Santa Ana. His brother "wanted to follow what he believed and that's what he did."

Asked about allegations that his brother might be conspiring to act against the United States, the teen said he'd never heard his brother say anything against the country.

According to the FBI, Gadahn, 25, attended Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and served as an Al Qaeda translator. The agency said he also was associated with senior Al Qaeda lieutenant Abu Zubeida in Pakistan. He also goes by the names Adam Pearlman and Abu Suhayb Al-Amriki.

"Adam Yahiye Gadahn is being sought in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States," the FBI said. "Although the FBI has no information indicating this individual is connected to any specific terrorist activities, the FBI would like to locate and question this person. He should be considered armed and dangerous."

"He is known to have performed translations … as part of the services he has provided to Al Qaeda," the FBI said.

Omar Gadahn, a college student, said he hasn't seen his brother in about five years. His mother last spoke to him by phone in March 2001. At that time he was in Pakistan, working at a newspaper, and his wife was about to have a child.

FBI officials in Los Angeles said Adam Gadahn was last known to be in Southern California in 1997 or 1998.

Gadahn was home-schooled at the family farm in Riverside County. He did not attend college. Omar said the family was a "more or less Christian household, but no one was particularly religious."

Omar said he doesn't know why his brother converted to Islam.

Gadahn in his online statement blasted Christianity, saying, "setting aside the blind dogmatism and charismatic wackiness," he could not be a Christian if it meant praying to Jesus and believing in the Trinity.

Gadahan wrote that he became "obsessed with demonic heavy metal music" and he "eschewed personal cleanliness and let my room reach an unbelievable state of disarray. My relationship with my parents became strained, although only intermittently so."

As he listened to "the apocalyptic ramblings of Christian radio's 'prophecy experts,'" Gadahan said the "fiery preaching" of the "Islamic threat" sparked his interest in the religion.

"Having been around Muslims in my formative years, I knew well that they were not the bloodthirsty, barbaric terrorists that the news media and the televangelists paint them to be," the statement said.

Gadahn's aunt, Nancy Pearlman, described her nephew as inquisitive and quick to learn languages. He read about several religions, she said, noting his mother's family is Catholic and he had a Jewish grandfather on his father's side.

"He was raised to be religious, to believe in a God," Pearlman said outside her Los Angeles home. "He made his own choice. We all make our own choices in life."

"There was no indication he was involved with terrorists at all," Pearlman added. "He was never fanatical. I never saw it in him."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.