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The Daily Tar Heel and the Raleigh News & Observer are both working the story of Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a 2005 UNC grad who on Friday deliberately ran a rented Jeep Cherokee into a popular campus gathering place called The Pit. He hit nine people and injured six, none seriously.
He then called 911, turned himself in, and has been cooperating with police. He is charged with nine counts of attempted murder. The UNC police chief said that the 23-year-old Iran native told police he assaulted his fellow Tar Heels "to avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world."
Taheri-azar reportedly grew up in Charlotte and studied philosphy and psychology at UNC. He is, of course, recalled by friends and classmates as kind of quiet and very intelligent.
I'm interested to see how the UNC campus reacts to this incident. It's getting surprisingly little national press. The Washington Post covered it Saturday, but seems not to have a follow-up. A search in the NYT comes up empty.
Even the Raleigh paper below-the-folded the incident today.
Curious. Even though Taheri-azar is believed to have acted alone, this is a very big story. Attempted murder with an SUV on a popular campus quad is a big story even if it's not a terrorist act. Why's everyone being so quiet about this one? It was not mentioned during TV coverage of the UNC/Duke game Saturday night (carried on EVERY SINGLE ESPN channel), despite the fact that it happened just the day before.
Most people I've talked to who don't read the N.C. papers got the impression on Friday that the incident was more accident than assault. It was very clearly not an accident. Some news outlets are giving the impression it could have been an accident by not including perspective on The Pit and where it's located.
A Michelle Malkin reader fills in the gaps:
Misleading lead sentence from ABC11: "The driver of an SUV that plowed into a group of pedestrians at UNC..." Word "pedestrians" suggests that this event happened near traffic. Completely misleading.
"Pit" is sunken bricked area where students congregate. It is closely surrounded by buildings. There is no adjacent traffic. It can be accessed only via very small service access and not without carefully navigating to the pit area. There is not
even the remotest possibility that this was anything other than a deliberate vehicular assault. The students were not "pedestrians;" they were merely
students at a popular campus gathering spot, almost a courtyard.
Here's a picture of The Pit. It's that place that every campus has where candidates for class president set up booths, where the College Democrats sign up members, where Habitat for Humanity recruits builders. It is designed for foot traffic. It is far away from actual traffic. This was not--could not have been-- an accident.
Some UNC students are holding an anti-terrorism protest today:
"We don't want terrorism here, and we're not gonna stand for that where we live and where we go to school," said Kris Wampler, a member of the College Republicans.
Wampler is organizing the rally with Jillian Bandes, an undergraduate fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan policy institute dedicated to protecting "democratic societies under assault by terrorism and Militant Islamism," according to its Web site...
Wampler said the Muslim Students Association and the Young Democrats have been invited to participate in the rally today. He said organizers are urging the university administration to call Friday's incident an act of terrorism.
I hope the Dems and the MSA will participate in the rally. The MSA put out the obligatory, "this was a deplorable act, but we hope you close-minded jerks won't let it taint your view of our religion of peace" press release. An obvious MSA presence at an anti-terror rally would certainly make a statement-- a more effective one than the press release did.
Of course, Bandes, who is organizing the rally, is a bit of polarizing figure in her own right. She is a former Daily Tar Heel columnist who was fired in the midst of a firestorm of criticism and national press after an indelicate column she wrote about racial profiling offended campus Muslims and the sources she quoted in the column.
I wrote about that incident, here.
Unfortunately, I will not be at all surprised if the national press coverage and on-campus outrage triggered by that one offensive column significantly outdoes the press coverage and outrage caused by the attempted murder of nine Tar Heels. Won't that be telling about today's campus environment?
UPDATE: Fox News just ran video of the suspect being taken to court. Along the way, reporters were shouting questions at him.
Reporter: Were you trying to kill people? Taheri-azar: Yes.
UPDATE 2: Taheri-azar is going to be representing himself at trial with the help of Allah, he said in a hearing today.
Fox is reporting that Taheri-azar's also said this at his hearing.
A University of North Carolina graduate from Iran, accused of running down nine people on campus to avenge the treatment of Muslims, said at a hearing Monday that he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah."
The News & Observer's reporting on his statements is slightly different: "I'm thankful you're here to give me this trial and to learn more about the will of Allah," he told the judge in court."
The N&O also has the audio of his 911 call. Very, very calm and matter-of-fact. Creepy. He says in the call there's a letter about why he did it, but I haven't heard any reports about that.
Dispatcher: I know you said the reason you did this is in a note, but can you tell me why you did this?
Taheri-azar: It was really to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world.
Michelle Malkin asks if we can call it terrorism yet.