So why was that crowd in the mosque? Why did they feel that was their place to be? Why did they “drift away” — did the mosque leaders challenge them on their views of Islam? And perhaps most importantly, where did they go, and what are they doing now? From the Washington Post, with thanks to Nicolei:
Within a year, Yahya — born Adam Gadahn to parents of Jewish and Catholic heritage — had fallen in with a group of young men who prayed regularly at the mosque but also picked ugly political squabbles with the placid, middle-class congregation from the suburbs south of Los Angeles.
Bundakji remembers the men as angry, rigidly pious, and hypercritical of any Muslim who adopted Western clothes or manners. But they were also bright, articulate and well educated. “Very convincing,” Bundakji surmised, “to someone like Adam Gadahn.”
Now, in hindsight, the mosque leader believes he may have witnessed Gadahn’s second conversion — into a radical Islamist.
This spring, more than five years after the Southern California native told his family he was moving to Pakistan, he resurfaced on an FBI list of seven alleged al Qaeda operatives wanted for possible involvement in plots against the United States. Now some intelligence sources say they believe Gadahn is the masked man seen on a videotape released just before the elections, warning that American “streets will run with blood.”…
At the time, though, Gadahn was not the center’s most troublesome new member. Bundakji, a gregarious man who emigrated to California from Jordan in the late 1960s to attend business school, had grown concerned about a group of seven or eight men who had begun attending prayer services a few years before Gadahn’s arrival.
The men — all in their twenties and thirties, most from Pakistan — would spend hours at the mosque, praying in a circle and “supposedly studying Islam together,” Bundakji said. They wore turbans, long robes and long beards, and they spent a lot of time criticizing other members of the mosque.
“They were very rigid, cruel in talking to people,” Bundakji said. “They were radicals, super-orthodox.” As mosque chairman, he emerged as a particular target of their wrath. They criticized him for wearing Western clothes, for not wearing a beard, for trying to reach out to local Jewish communities. Seizing on his American nickname, Danny, they circulated fliers around the mosque calling him “Danny the Jew.”
Bundakji notes that the mid-1990s were a different era. For all their concerns about the young men, “we didn’t think of terrorists or plotting.” But the men’s attitudes ran sharply counter to the friendly, interfaith face of Islam that Bundakji — who proudly shows off photos of himself with both Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres — and others at the Islamic Society had worked to promote. So Bundakji tried to disperse them.
“They never really did anything” for the mosque, he said.
By then, the men had drawn Gadahn into their circle. “The anger in his face became like theirs,” Bundakji said.
One day in May 1997, Gadahn abruptly stormed into Bundakji’s office — “incited” by the other men, Bundakji believes. “He was screaming and shouting,” though Bundakji says he does not know exactly why. And then he slapped the chairman with an open hand.
Gadahn was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault, to which he later pleaded guilty, and was barred from the mosque for several months.
He returned briefly in early 1998. Bundakji said he tried to greet the young man but was rebuffed. And shortly thereafter, Gadahn and the rest of the group drifted away from the mosque.