Driver at UNC Cites Vengeance for Muslims

Associated Press
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., March 6 -- 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."

Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar was accused of driving a sport-utility vehicle through the Pit, a popular campus gathering spot, injuring nine people Friday. None of the victims was seriously hurt.

University Police Chief Derek Poarch said Taheri-azar told investigators he intentionally hit people to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world." In a 911 call after the incident, Taheri-azar said he wanted to "punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world."

Taheri-azar, 22, appeared in Orange County District Court on nine counts of attempted murder and nine counts of assault.

His bail was set at $5.5 million and he was assigned a public defender, but he said after the hearing: "The truth is my lawyer."

Taheri-azar graduated from North Carolina in December after studying psychology and philosophy. Investigators believe he has spent most of his life in the United States.

On campus, UNC students held what they called an "anti-terrorism" rally. "We don't want terrorism here, and we're not going to stand for that where we live and where we go to school," said Kris Wampler, a student at UNC and member of the College Republicans, which helped organize the rally.

About 50 students attended the rally, including several Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.

"When you think in terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said student Khurram Bilal Tariq, 22.

Stephen Mann, an 18-year-old freshman, said he was not singling out Islam with his call to label Friday's incident terrorism. He said a member of any religion who did what Taheri-azar is accused of doing should be called a terrorist.

"If you try to hurt someone in the name of a cause, that's terrorism," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company