MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Today, a 28-year-old from California became the first American since World War II to be indicted for treason. The man's name is Adam Gadahn. He goes by Azzam the American.
NPR's Ari Shapiro is here to talk with us about the announcement. Ari, what do we know about Adam Gadahn?
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, he was raised in Orange County, California. He converted to Islam and then at some point he traveled to Pakistan, where he apparently hooked up with al-Qaida leaders and then within the last few years began appearing in videos with some of those leaders. For example, here's one where he appeared with Ayman al-Zawahiri.
(Soundbite of al-Qaida propaganda tape)
Mr. ADAM GADAHN: (Unintelligible) don't need democracy to rid themselves of their homegrown despots and tyrants. What they do need is their Islamic faith, the spirit of jihad and the lifting of foreign troops and interference from their necks.
SHAPIRO: There are several of these videos and some excerpts from others are even more chilling. There's one where he talks about American streets running with blood. There's another where he says the casualties will be too many to count and the next wave of attacks will come at any moment.
NORRIS: What do we know about his role in al-Qaida?
SHAPIRO: Well, Justice Department officials are describing his role as less one of plotting and carrying out attacks and more one of, sort of a publicity role, if you will. I mean, he's a young, articulate American. English is his first language, and so he can make the case for Islamic extremism to an American audience, which is something that al-Qaida may find very valuable.
NORRIS: Is he back in America now?
SHAPIRO: Probably not. Justice Department officials suspect that he is in or around Pakistan. His last known address was in California.
NORRIS: If officials don't have him in custody, why are they indicting him now?
SHAPIRO: Well, there have actually been previous indictments. The one released today is what's known as a superseding indictment and the others have been sealed, so this is the first one that's been made public. And it's the first indictment for treason, which could be one reason that this is being so heavily publicized.
The Justice Department says this one comes out now because there's been a pattern of more videos, stronger evidence against Gadahn. In the latest video he unmasked himself so you could see his face.
But of course, the timing does raise political questions. This comes less than a month before a hotly debated election. Republicans have been trying to change the subject back to national security from the sex scandal involving Congressman Foley. But the Justice Department says the timing had nothing to do with an effort to divert attention from the Foley scandal.
They say that by adding him to the FBI's most wanted list today, by putting a $1 million bounty on his head, by publicizing his role in al-Qaida, they'll make it more difficult for him to get around and hopefully easier for officials to get him into custody.
NORRIS: Now, we've seen a lot of terrorism indictments in the last few years but none have charged a defendant with treason, as you've noted. Is this a change potentially in strategy or what does this mean?
SHAPIRO: Well, it sets this case apart from the others. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty called treason the most serious offense for which any person can be tried under our Constitution. It's unusual in that the Constitution spells out the standards for treason and the standards are higher for proving treason than other crimes, so it really does put this indictment on a very different level from other terrorism indictments that we've seen.
NORRIS: NPR'S Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks so much.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome.
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