Suspect pleads not guilty in soldier's death

June 2, 2009 7:37:55 AM PDT
A Muslim convert accused of killing a soldier in a "political and religious" attack on a military recruiting center pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a capital murder charge and was ordered held without bail. Abdulhakim Muhammad, 23, of Little Rock, was charged in Monday's death of Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway outside an Army-Navy Career Center in a west Little Rock shopping center.

A prosecutor said Muhammad admitted shooting Long and another soldier "because of what they had done to Muslims in the past."

An FBI-led joint terrorism task force based in the southern United States has been investigating Muhammad since he returned to the United States from Yemen, a law enforcement official said. The suspect had been arrested and jailed in Yemen at some point for using a Somali passport, the official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was not authorized to discuss the investigation.

An FBI spokesman in Little Rock did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Long and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, 18, of Jacksonville, Ark., had recently completed basic training and had never seen combat. Ezeagwula was hospitalized in stable condition.

Police Chief Stuart Thomas said Muhammad, previously known as Carlos Bledsoe, was a convert to Islam and was not part of any broader scheme to attack the American military.

Deputy Prosecutor Scott Duncan said Muhammad told investigators that "he would have killed more soldiers had they been in the parking lot." Long and Ezeagwula were targeted as they stood outside the recruiting center smoking cigarettes.

Muhammad sat with his hands in his lap before Little Rock District Judge Alice Lightle. He did not say anything during the brief hearing.

Investigators described the killing as being motivated by politics and religion.

"We believe that it's associated with his disagreement over the military operations," Thomas said.

The two soldiers had recently completed basic training and had volunteered for a program to recruit others to the military, said Lt. Col. Thomas F. Artis of the Oklahoma City Recruiting Battalion, which oversees the Little Rock office.

"They can show the example: 'Here's where I was, and here is where I am,"' Artis said.

A police report said Muhammad told investigators he observed two soldiers in uniform, drove up to the recruiting center and began shooting.

"He saw them standing there and drove up and shot them," Lt. Terry Hastings told The Associated Press. "That's what he said."

Police arrested Muhammad along a highway moments after the shootings. Police said an assault rifle and other weapons were found in his vehicle.

In addition to the capital murder count, Muhammad is accused of committing 16 counts of a terroristic act. Thomas said most additional counts resulted from the gunfire occurring near other people.

The suspect's father, Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, Tenn., hung up on a reporter who called about his son's arrest Monday night.

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Associated Press writers Chuck Bartels and Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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