2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting

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2009 Little Rock
military recruiting office shooting
Map
Left – Little Rock, shown within Pulaski County. Right – Pulaski County, shown within Arkansas.
Location 9112 North Rodney Parham Road,
Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
Coordinates 34°45′33″N 92°22′31″W / 34.75918°N 92.37533°W / 34.75918; -92.37533Coordinates: 34°45′33″N 92°22′31″W / 34.75918°N 92.37533°W / 34.75918; -92.37533
Date June 1, 2009 (2009-06-01)
10:19 a.m.
Target U.S. military recruiting office
Attack type
Drive-by shooting
Weapon(s) SKS rifle
Deaths 1
Non-fatal injuries
1
Victim
  • Private William Andrew Long (killed)
  • Private Quinton I. Ezeagwula (injured)
Perpetrator Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad

The 2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting took place on June 1, 2009, when the American Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, born Carlos Leon Bledsoe, opened fire with a rifle in a drive-by shooting on soldiers in front of a United States military recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas. He killed Private William Long, and wounded Private Quinton Ezeagwula.

After his arrest, Muhammad acknowledged shooting the men. He told police that he had intended to kill as many Army personnel as possible. He had an SKS rifle, a Mossberg International 702 rifle, two handguns, 562 rounds of ammunition, and military books in his car. Muhammad was charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder, and 10 counts of unlawful discharge of a weapon. Muhammad also reportedly faced 15 counts of engaging in a terrorist act.[1]

A convert to Islam, Muhammad had gone to Yemen in 2007 to teach English and study Islam, staying about 16 months. He was deported from Yemen to the United States, after having overstayed his visa and been detained.

In January 2010, Muhammad wrote to the judge in his case. He claimed for the first time that he was sent on the attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and pleaded guilty to the charges of capital murder.[2] He had not consulted with his lawyers, and no independent confirmation of his claim has been made.[2] His father described him as "unable to process reality".[2][3][4][5]

The lead prosecutor for Pulaski County, Arkansas said about Muhammad's attack, "If you strip away what he says, self-serving or not, it’s just an awful killing, it’s like a lot of other killings we have."[4]

His shooting attack was the first of two in 2009 at US military facilities. In the Fort Hood shooting in November, a US Army psychiatrist shot and killed 13 and wounded 29 other soldiers. Although a Senate special report chaired by the Independent Joseph Lieberman declared it "the deadliest terrorist attack within the United States since September 11, 2001,"[6]Nidal Malik Hasan was charged with murder and was sentenced to death.

The Arkansas prosecutor took the Muhammad case to trial in 2011. The defense lawyers said that the young man suffered "a delusional disorder."[7] During the trial, Muhammad changed his plea to guilty and the prosecutor accepted it. On July 25, 2011, Muhammed was sentenced to life in prison.[7]

At trial, the suspect was charged by the state with capital murder and related charges, not terrorism. Some terrorism experts have noted a connection to other homegrown terror plots in recent years, including targets, ideological motives and religious inspiration. Other experts believe the stated ideological or religious reasons maybe simply be a cover for personal problem.[8]

Shooting[edit]

Attack[edit]

An SKS rifle, the type used by Muhammad in the attack

Muhammad drove by the Little Rock U.S. Army recruiting center at 9112 North Rodney Parham Road near Reservoir Road in a black 2003 Ford Explorer Sport Trac at 10:19 a.m. on June 1, 2009. Private William Andrew "Andy" Long, 23, of Conway, Arkansas, and Private Quinton I. Ezeagwula, 18, of Jacksonville, Arkansas, were standing outside the recruiting center in uniform, smoking cigarettes. Muhammad saw them, approached, stopped his vehicle, and shot them with an SKS rifle. The two victims had just completed basic training two weeks prior, and volunteered to work as recruiters, which was not their regular assignment.[1][9][10][11]

A witness, Lance P. Luplow, heard approximately seven loud bangs and then saw a black truck with tinted windows speeding away, with its tailgate down spilling bottles of water onto the street.[9] Luplow ran to Long, who had been shot several times, and was lying still in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. Ezeagwula was crawling to the door, holding a bloodied ear. Ezeagwula exclaimed: "Tell me this isn’t real, tell me this isn’t real". Other soldiers came to treat the wounded, and performed CPR on Long.[12] Long was dead upon arrival at a hospital. Ezeagwula, who was shot in his back, head, and buttocks, was rushed into surgery at Baptist Hospital in critical condition.[1][10][11]

Long's father later remarked: "They weren't on the battlefield; but apparently, the battlefield's here."[13]

Attempted escape[edit]

Muhammad sped away, planning to drive 150 miles to Memphis, Tennessee, where he intended to switch cars. After a short pursuit, Muhammad took a wrong turn in a construction zone, and local police officers captured him eight miles from the recruiting center, near the intersection of Interstate 30 and Interstate 630 near downtown Little Rock. He surrendered to Little Rock police officers without incident.[10][14]

He stepped out of his SUV, wearing a green ammo belt. He said: "It's a war going on against Muslims, and that is why I did it".[9] He used language "indicating an association with jihad", and claimed that he had explosives, but none were found.[1]

He was found to be in possession of an SKS rifle, a Mossberg International 702 rifle with scope and laser sight, a .22 caliber handgun, a Lorcin L-380 semi-automatic handgun, 562 rounds of ammunition loaded in magazines, homemade sound suppressors, binoculars, a "suspicious" package, and two military books. A police search of his apartment turned up Molotov cocktails, homemade sound suppressors, and compact discs labeled with Arabic writing.[14][15][16]

Motive and other targets[edit]

"It's a war out against Islam and Muslims, and I'm on the side of the Muslims point blank ... The U.S. has to pay for the rape, murder, bloodshed, blasphemy it has done and still doing to the Muslims and Islam. So consider this a small retaliation, the best is to come Allah willing. This is not the first attack, and won't be the last."[9]

— Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad

Muhammad said later: "I was trying to kill them." He said he would have killed more soldiers, had more been there.[9]

Muhammad said that he did not regard his action as murder, because American military actions in the Middle East justify the slaying of Americans.[17] "I do feel I'm not guilty," he said to the Associated Press, "I don't think it was murder because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason."[18] Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said, "At this point it appears that he specifically targeted military personnel."

According to law enforcement officials, Muhammad "had conducted research on other targets, including military sites, government facilities, and Jewish institutions" throughout the country.[19]

Press accounts noted New York City military facilities, such as the Times Square Recruiting Station, which was bombed March 6, 2008, had been previously targeted for violence.

The suspect[edit]

The suspect, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, previously known as Carlos Leon Bledsoe, was born on July 9, 1985 in Memphis, Tennessee to Melvin Bledsoe, a businessman, and his wife Linda. He has a sister Monica. Raised as a Baptist and considered a "sunny child",[20] he graduated from Craigmont High School in Memphis in 2003. He attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, for three semesters.[9][20]

At the age of 19, Bledsoe converted to Islam in 2004 at Masjid As-Salam, a Memphis mosque. He has said "I've loved jihad ever since I became Muslim." He became more devout and prayed regularly at the Islamic Center of Nashville, wearing Arab-style clothing. By 2007 he was a deeply religious Muslim and had legally changed his name to Muhammad.[9][20]

Yemen (September 2007 – January 2009)[edit]

In 2007, Muhammad traveled to visit Yemen and stayed there for about 16 months, ostensibly visiting to teach English (at an institute called The British Academy, and other places in Aden and Sana'a), to learn Arabic, and to further his understanding of Islam.

Marriage and family[edit]

While there, in September 2008 he married Reena Abdullah Ahmed Farag, a woman from South Yemen who worked as an elementary school teacher.[9][20] She was left behind when he was deported, but he later sent for her.

Detention[edit]

In his handwritten letters of May to October 2010, Muhammad claimed to have known people in Yemen who "showed him around and helped him get started," but didn't say who they were or how he met them, declining to do so for what he referred to as "security reasons."[9] He claimed to have been "asked many times to carry out a martyrdom operation in America", but "didn't have proper training in regards to explosives."[9] He said he tried to travel to Somalia for weapons and bomb-making training, particularly car-bomb-making. He wrote in 2010, "[H]ad I got this training my story would have ended a lot differently than it's going to end now. My drive-by would have been a drive-in, with no one escaping the aftermath."[9]

Muhammad was arrested at a roadside checkpoint in Yemen on November 14, 2008. He had overstayed his visa, lacked the proper government permissions to travel, and was holding a fraudulent Somali passport. According to his 2010 letters about this period, in his car were found explosive manuals that included tips such as how to make gun silencers, literature by Anwar Al-Awlaki (the late cleric in Yemen linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), videos and literature about "Muslim soldiers in different parts of the world", and "people's numbers on my phone that were wanted in Saudi Arabia."[9]

Imprisoned for over two months in Yemen, Muhammad said in his account that he was "maybe insulted in interrogation a few times, but not tortured".[9] He began planning to carry out jihad against the U.S. while he was in prison. James E. Hensley Jr., Muhammad's American lawyer after his arrest in the United States, later said that he was radicalized by Islamic fundamentalists while in prison.[5]

Under pressure from the United States, Yemen deported Muhammad to the U.S. on January 29, 2008.[9] Because his original plan to travel to Somalia for bomb training had been foiled by his arrest in Yemen, Muhammad said he revised his plan "with the help of the Mujahideen", the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[9] Investigators have not independently confirmed his claims.

Return to the U.S. (January 2009–present)[edit]

After his return, Muhammad initially stayed with his parents in Memphis. He moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in April, where his father opened an office to provide a job for his son and a chance for him to bring his wife from Yemen.[20] His parents ran a successful tour bus business ("Twin City Tours"), and he worked for his father as a driver.[21]

After his return, Muhammad was investigated by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. The Task Force also investigated the suspect's visit to Columbus, Ohio; authorities had monitored some Somali Americans traveling from there to Somalia to "wage jihad."[9][14][22][23]

Following his arrest and indictment, in January 2010, Muhammad wrote to the judge in his case and pleaded guilty to the charges. After that, according to Muhammed's seven handwritten letters from May to October 2010, which he sent to The Commercial Appeal newspaper, he described his planning and activities related to his June 2009 attack, which he claimed to have planned for weeks. He claimed to have bought several guns secondhand to avoid FBI scrutiny, stockpiled ammunition, practiced target shooting, and bought a .22-caliber rifle at Wal-Mart to determine whether he was being watched.[9]

Muhammad said in his letters that none of his attacks had gone as planned.[9] His initial plan was to kill "3 Zionist rabbis in Memphis, Little Rock, and Nashville. Then target recruitment centers, from the South to the nation's capital. And other Zionist organizations in the northeast."[9] He used Google Maps to investigate targeting recruiting centers in at least five states (including ones in the cities of New York, Atlanta, Louisville, and Philadelphia), Times Square in New York City; Jewish institutions (including in Atlanta); a day-care center, a post office, and a Baptist church, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.[13][24]

According to Muhammad's letters, he began his jihad in Little Rock, doing "something" there. He drove to Nashville and threw a Molotov cocktail at the home of an orthodox rabbi, but it bounced off the target. He drove to an Army recruiting center in Florence, Kentucky, because "it was near an interstate and bordered Ohio. Easy to get away", but the center was closed.[9] He returned to Little Rock, where he shot the soldiers at the recruiting station.

He was indicted on one count of capital murder and 15 counts of terrorist acts.[1][9][19][25]

Mention in Congressional hearings[edit]

In a March 2011 Congressional hearing addressing the issue of domestic radicalization of Muslims, Muhammad's father Melvin Bledsoe, a business man from Memphis, spoke of his son's descent into extremism. Bledsoe described his son's religious conversion and travels to Yemen, where he had been “trained and programmed” to kill. Bledsoe said, “Our children are in danger,” and that, “It seems to me that Americans are sitting around doing nothing about radical extremists. This is a big elephant in the room.”[26] On an earlier occasion, Bledsoe had said, "If it can happen to my son, it can happen to anyone’s son.”[4]

Legal proceedings[edit]

"I knew this would end with the enemies of Allah killing me. But the good thing is—Martyrs don't die! Allah says, "Don't think of those who are killed for the sake of Allah as dead. Rather they are alive with their Lord." (Qur'an 3:169) And that's what I believe. The jihad lives on."[9]

— Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad

Muhammad was charged by the state of Arkansas with capital murder, attempted capital murder, and 10 counts of unlawful discharge of a weapon.[2] Prosecutors sought the death penalty.[9]

He was held in the Pulaski County Detention Center, awaiting a scheduled February 2011 jury trial.[9] In January 2010, Arkansas Judge Herbert Wright ordered the State's Public Defenders Commission to pay part of the bill for Muhammad's private attorney.[27] That same month, in a two-page, handwritten letter to the judge in his case, Muhammad changed his plea to guilty. For the first time, he claimed to be a "soldier in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (AQAP), and described the recruiting office shooting as a "Jihadi attack." He said he was part of Abu Basir's Army, a reference to Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, the AQAP leader in Yemen. Muhammad affirmed that his sanity was intact, and that he was acting of his own volition in changing his plea.[28]

At the time the County Prosecutor Jegley said that he was still intending to go to trial; he would have had to recommend that Muhammed's plea be accepted for the court to do so. He said he was not going to have the defendant determine the course of the trial.[29]

Muhammad wrote at the time, “I wasn’t insane or post-traumatic, nor was I forced to do this Act. The attack was justified according to Islamic Laws and the Islamic Religion. Jihad—to fight those who wage war on Islam and Muslims.”[2] Muhammad did not discuss his change in plea with his lawyers ahead of time.

Discussing his claim of affiliation with the Al-Qaeda group in Yemen led by al-Awlaki (killed in September 2011) and al-Wahishi, he wrote in his letters of May to October 2010:

Far as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula ... yes, I'm affiliated with them.... Our goal is to rid the Islamic world of idols and idolaters, paganism and pagans, infidelity and infidels, hypocrisy and hypocrites, apostasy and apostates, democracy and democrats, and relaunch the Islamic caliphate … and to establish Islamic law (Shari'ah).[9]

Investigators have not independently confirmed his claim of AQAP affiliation. Muhammad's father Melvin Bledsoe said he doubted whether his son had any such ties. Bledsoe described his son as "unable to process reality" and being so "brainwashed" that he wanted to tie his act to the terrorist group so he could face execution and become a martyr.[2]

Charges and trial[edit]

The lead prosecutor for Pulaski County, Arkansas believed Muhammad acted alone, as did other law enforcement officials: "If you strip away what he says, self-serving or not, it’s just an awful killing, it’s like a lot of other killings we have."[4] They and his father Melvin Bledsoe said there was no evidence Muhammad was ever in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki. Other men, such as the Fort Hood shooter and Christmas Day bomber, had some communication with the late al-Qaeda imam in Yemen. Before their attacks they had formed radicalized views, but the Fort Hood shooter had other problems as well. The Army has classified the Fort Hood shooting as workplace violence.[4]

In June 2010, Muhammad was charged with assaulting an inmate with a weapon fashioned out of eyeglasses, after a similar attack on a jail officer in April.[30]

Both the prosecutor and Muhammad's lawyers wanted to go to trial, which finally started in 2011. His lawyers defended him on the grounds that he suffered "a delusional disorder."[7] During the trial, Muhammad changed his plea to guilty and the prosecutor accepted it. On July 25, 2011, the judge sentenced Muhammed to life in prison.[7]

Significance[edit]

The suspect was noted in early press accounts as among recent Muslim converts planning or carrying out violent attacks that security experts called a disturbing new domestic trend. The attack came less than two weeks after a foiled bomb plot on two synagogues in Riverdale, New York, led by four men with records of incarceration, drug abuse and mental illness.[31] Although the four men were originally identified by some sources as having converted to Islam in prison or shortly after their incarcerations,[32] the New York Times reported that their religious affiliation was uncertain, and they had never served together in prison.[31] Two had registered as Baptist and one as Catholic in earlier prison terms; one said he had converted to Islam and another listed no religion. They had no ties to any international terrorist organization.[31]

The New York Times noted of Muhammad's alleged ties to Al-Qaeda, "If evidence emerges that his claim is true, it will give the June 1, 2009, shooting in Little Rock new significance at a time when Yemen is being more closely scrutinized as a source of terrorist plots against the United States."[2] No additional evidence at trial has confirmed Muhammed's claims and he was not charged with terrorism.[7] As noted above, his father doubted his claims of affiliation.[2]

Some terrorism experts thought there was a connection in Muhammed's case to other homegrown terror plots in recent years, including targets, ideological motives and religious inspiration. Other experts believe the stated ideological or religious reasons may simply be a cover for personal problem.[33]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Dao, James (January 21, 2010). "Man Claims Terror Ties in Little Rock Shooting". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  3. ^ Mike Phelan, Mike Mount, and Terry Frieden (June 1, 2009). "Suspect arrested in Arkansas recruiting center shooting". CNN. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Dao, James (February 16, 2010). "A Muslim Son, a Murder Trial and Many Questions". Arkansas;Yemen: The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Dao, James (June 4, 2009). "Suspect’s Lawyer Outlines Defense in Killing of Soldier". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2010. 
  6. ^ COUNTERTERRORISM LESSONS FROM THE U.S. GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE TO PREVENT THE FORT HOOD ATTACK: A SPECIAL REPORT, BY JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, CHAIRMAN, SUSAN M. COLLINS, RANKING MEMBER
  7. ^ a b c d e "Breaking News: Little Rock jihadist gets life", Investigative Project
  8. ^ Little Rock Shooting Suspect Joins Growing List of Muslim Converts Accused of Targeting U.S. Published June 02, 2009 FoxNews.com
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Kristina Goetz (November 13, 2010). "Muslim who shot soldier in Arkansas says he wanted to cause more death". The Commercial Appeal. The Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved November 15, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c "Army Recruiter Killed In LR Shooting". KTHV. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b District Court, Little Rock Arkansas. Case documents
  12. ^ Dao, James; Barnes, Steve (June 1, 2009). "Gunman Kills Soldier Outside Recruiting Station". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 February 2010. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Family of Soldier Killed Outside Recruiting Center Moved to Arkansas for Peace and Quiet". FOX News. June 23, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c Demillo, Andrew (January 22, 2010). "Prosecutor cool to plea shift in recruiter killing". Seattle Times. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  15. ^ Kouri, Jim (June 7, 2009). "NYPD Intelligence Issues Update on Jihad at Army Recruiting Station". Huntington News. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, Recruiter Shooting Suspect, Under FBI Investigation". ABC News. June 1, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  17. ^ Gambrell, John (June 11, 2009). "Judge blocks phone for suspect in soldier shooting". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved January 28, 2010. [dead link]
  18. ^ Chuck Bartels, Jon Gambrell, Kelly Kissell, Jane Fullerton, and Jacob Quinn Sanders (June 11, 2009). "Not aware more attacks planned, LR shooting suspect says". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Archived from the original on July 30, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2009. 
  19. ^ a b "Arkansas shooter researched Jewish sites". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. June 4, 2009. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Dao, James (February 17, 2010). "A Muslim Son, a Murder Trial and Many Questions". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2010. 
  21. ^ "Recruiter murder suspect was being investigated". Army Times. June 3, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2010. 
  22. ^ Thomas, Pierre; Esposito, Richard; Date, Jack (June 3, 2009). "Recruiter Shooting Suspect Had Ties to Extremist Locations Investigators Probing Attack to Determine Whether Shooting Suspect Acted Alone". ABC News. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  23. ^ Andrew C. McCarthy (2009). Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad. Encounter Books. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, Recruiter Shooting Suspect, Under FBI Investigation". ABC News. June 3, 2009. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  25. ^ Dao, James; Johnston, David (June 3, 2009). "Suspect in Soldier Attack Was Once Detained in Yemen". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2010. 
  26. ^ Sheryl Gay Stolberg; Laurie Goodstein (March 10, 2011). "Domestic Terrorism Hearing Opens With Contrasting Views on Dangers". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2011. 
  27. ^ "Ark. to pay legal bills for accused shooter". Army Times. January 11, 2010. Retrieved November 16, 2010. 
  28. ^ "To Judge Wright, JR. from Abdul Hakim Muhammad". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  29. ^ Andrew DeMillo, Seattle Times, 22 Jan 2010, accessed 1 January 2013
  30. ^ "Man charged in recruiter shooting accused of jail stabbing". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (arkansasonline.com). Jun 10, 2010. Retrieved 23 June 2010. 
  31. ^ a b c Wilson, Michael (May 21, 2009). "In Bronx Bomb Case, Missteps Caught on Tape". NYT. Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved May 22, 2009. 
  32. ^ Joseph Abrams (June 2, 2009). "Little Rock Shooting Suspect Joins Growing List of Muslim Converts Accused of Targeting U.S". Fox News. Retrieved January 29, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Little Rock Shooting Suspect Joins Growing List of Muslim Converts Accused of Targeting U.S.", Fox News, 2 June 2009

External links[edit]