Ross Mackenzie

In Virginia Beach they're into jury selection in the capital murder trial of John Muhammad, one of two implicated in the sniper shootings that terrorized the D.C. area south to Richmond a year ago. The trial may last two months. The trial of his alleged young accomplice, Lee Malvo, is set to begin later in nearby Chesapeake, Va.

Muhammad, who has pleaded not guilty, may be found innocent. But circumstantial evidence of his involvement abounds.

In the realm of motive - if Muhammad participated in or helped plan the sniper shootings, WHY? - the principal piece of evidence, apparently carrying telltale DNA, is the note left for authorities at the scene of the shooting in Ashland, Va., demanding $10 million. In the sniper case, there may have been a parallel motive as well - hostility toward the United States and its values generally, and to its white Christian people in particular.

The sniper shootings happened about a year after 9/11. What follows, drawn partly from material appearing in this space last November, is based solely on information contained in newspaper accounts.

- Born John Williams, he changed his name to John Muhammad in April 2001 - 16 years after his conversion to Islam. He was a member of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.

(A Times-Dispatch news account cites a Manassas, Va., prison guard testifying Malvo and Muhammad "blamed white people for plotting an assassination attempt on ... Farrakhan. When (the guard) noted that the (sniper) shooting victims were of all races, Malvo said he and Muhammad intentionally selected racially diverse targets." ... He said, "If we only shot white people, the cops would catch up to us quicker, so we shot all kinds of people.")

- A former Washington state friend said Muhammad disparaged Christians and Jews. "In his mind, even black people were no good if they stood with whites or Christians." The friend added it might not be merely coincidental that none of the sniper victims was visibly Muslim.

- Muhammad is believed to have shot up a synagogue in Tacoma, Wash. He was connected with the Islamic Center in Laurel, Md. Federal authorities have investigated whether he had ties to a sect of militant American Muslims (al-Fuqra) committed to waging holy war against the United States - and linked (as of a year ago) to 13 killings and 17 fire bombings in the United States and Canada. Specifically, Muhammad may have had connections to an al-Fuqra commune in Georgia.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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