Suspect in soldier shooting says he was justified

June 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Muslim convert charged with fatally shooting an American soldier at a military recruiting center said Tuesday that he doesn't consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified. "I do feel I'm not guilty," Abdulhakim Muhammad told The Associated Press in a collect call from the Pulaski County jail. "I don't think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason."

Pvt. William Andrew Long, 23, of Conway had just completed basic training and was volunteering at the west Little Rock recruiting office before starting an assignment in South Korea. He was shot dead June 1 while smoking a cigarette outside the building, and a fellow soldier, Pvt. Quinton I. Ezeagwula, 18, of Jacksonville was wounded.

"Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally," Muhammad said. He called it "a act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military."

In the interview, Muhammad also disputed his lawyer's claim that he had been "radicalized" in a Yemeni prison and said fellow prisoners that some call terrorists were actually "very good Muslim brothers."

He also said he didn't specifically plan the shootings that morning.

"It's been on my mind for awhile. It wasn't nothing planned really. It was just the heat of the moment, you know," said Muhammad, who was arrested on a highway shortly after the attack.

Prosecutor Larry Jegley, who on Monday won a gag order in the case, declined to comment specifically on Muhammad's remarks.

"I asked for the gag order to protect Mr. Muhammad's right for a fair trial," Jegley said. "I've never had a situation like this with a gag order and I'm sure Mr. Muhammad's attorney will take care of it."

Muhammad, 23, said he wanted revenge for claims that American military personnel had desecrated copies of the Quran and killed or raped Muslims. "For this reason, no Muslim, male or female, sane or insane, little, big, small, old can accept or tolerate," he said.

He said the U.S. military would never treat Christians and their Scriptures in the same manner.

"U.S. soldiers are killing innocent Muslim men and women. We believe that we have to strike back. We believe in eye for an eye. We don't believe in turning the other cheek," he said.

Asked whether he considered the shootings at the recruiting center an act of war, Muhammad said "I didn't know the soldiers personally, but yes, it was an attack of retaliation. And I feel that other attacks, not by me or people I know, but definitely Muslims in this country and others elsewhere, are going to attack for doing those things they did," especially desecrating the Quran.

Last week, defense lawyer Jim Hensley said his client had been tortured and "radicalized" in a Yemeni prison after entering the country to teach English. He was held there for immigration violations, and Yemeni officials have denied mistreatment.

"Those claims ... are all lies," Muhammad said Tuesday. "That never happened in Yemen. The officials dealt with me in a gentle way."

Hensley said Tuesday that any information spread by any of the parties since Monday morning would violate the gag order and declined to say whether he would advise his client to remain silent pending a trial.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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