WASHINGTON - A California-born convert to Islam who has appeared in al Qaeda videos became on Wednesday the first American charged with treason since the World War Two era, a US Justice Department official said.
Adam Gadahn, 28, who is believed to be overseas and is not in US custody, was accused of treason, which carries a maximum punishment of death, and providing material support for a terrorist group, the official said.
The US Justice Department last brought treason charges, during the World War Two era, the sources said.
Gadahn, who is also known on the videos as Azzam the American, has been involved in a propaganda campaign of the Islamic militant group, the sources said. Some of the videos have threatened attacks against the United States.
He converted to Islam from a Judeo-Christian family when he was 17 and a few years later moved to Pakistan. He previously was known as Adam Pearlman and grew up on a goat ranch outside Los Angeles.
The FBI has sought to question him since May 2004.
Besides treason, prosecutors have prepared other criminal charges against Gadahn, the sources said. They declined to give specific details.
The sources denied the case was timed to deflect attention from the fallout over lewd computer messages sent by a former Republican congressman to young male aides, a scandal that may help Democrats seize control of Congress in November 7 election.
The FBI has said that Gadahn attended al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, that he has been associated with al Qaeda's leaders and that he has done translations for al Qaeda.
His last video was posted on a website on September 2.
"If the Zionist crusader missionaries of hate and counter-Islam consultants like ... the crusader and chief George W Bush were to abandon their unbelief and repent and enter into the light of Islam and turn their swords against the enemies of God, it would be accepted of them and they would be our brothers in Islam," Gadahn said in English.
Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, made a brief statement at the start of the tape urging viewers to listen carefully to the message.
US officials believe Gadahn appeared in another video last year, right before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, threatening al Qaeda attacks on Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia.
They also believe Gadahn threatened attacks in a video released in October 2004, just before the US presidential election.