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.
(Al-Fuqra - "the impoverished," seeking to purify Islam through violence - is suspected of having had ties to Richard Reid, the Briton convicted of trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner with a shoe-bomb two years ago. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, on his way through Pakistan to meet al-Fuqra's top sheik, Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, was kidnapped and beheaded.)
- The sniper shootings began Oct. 2, the anniversary of the 1995 conviction of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing's ringleader Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and others, including reputed al-Fuqra members.
- Some that knew Muhammad said he embraced the anti-Americanism of Osama bin Laden. He also is said to have rejoiced in 9/11, saying the 9/11 attacks "should have happened a long time ago." In Camden, N.J., he registered the Caprice implicated in the year-later sniper shootings to his name on 9/11 - apparently with a time notation coinciding with the World Trade Center jetliner attacks.
- A Washington state acquaintance told the FBI two years ago he suspected Muhammad of being a member of a terrorist group. Another Washington acquaintance that is not a Muslim said Muhammad always greeted him with a traditional Muslim salutation in Arabic.
John Muhammad seems clearly to be embittered and an Islamist terrorist sympathizer. As noted here previously, if he "were a Branch Davidian or a religious rightist calling himself "God," and if his declared religion had broadly known terrorist factions, everyone would be all over his religious connections and those connections to terror." His trial could prove him to be not only guilty in the sniper shootings, but the Muslims' worst nightmare.
Prior to the sniper shootings, Muhammad dwelled outside the law in an underworld of scams, guns and false documents. He was a control freak who may have manipulated the much-younger Malvo. He may have been a Hamas or Islamic Jihad come-here or even a sleeper al-Qaidist - or if not so formally, then may have viewed himself as such. We may never know. Contrarily, many of his associations and sympathies may come out at his trial.
Indeed, if guilty in the sniper shootings, his motives may have gone beyond mere money. John Muhammad may have viewed himself - may style himself even now - as a fifth-column foot soldier in the Islamist terror war against the infidel United States.