Terror Suspect Daniel Boyd Seemed to Have Typical Suburban Life

The wife of a man accused of plotting "violent jihad" says the charges have not been substantiated and they believe that justice will prevail. (July 28) Video by AP
By Carrie Johnson and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Daniel Patrick Boyd, once a defensive lineman at T.C. Williams High School, is an unlikely symbol of the homegrown terrorist threat.

The son of a Marine, Boyd spent his early years in the Washington suburbs living a typical American childhood. Recently, he blended with his family into a picturesque suburb of Raleigh, N.C., where he gardened and was friendly with his neighbors.

But law enforcement officials, including four SWAT teams that deployed to Boyd's home this week, point to the Muslim convert as the latest example of a radicalized American who exported jihad. Boyd, 39, is scheduled to appear in federal court in North Carolina on Thursday with his two sons and four other young men he allegedly instructed in militant techniques.

A federal grand jury in Raleigh has accused him of conspiring to support terrorists and kill combatants overseas, as well as making false statements to customs and FBI agents about his recent trips to the Middle East, where prosecutors say he introduced his young followers to the life of martyrdom.

Boyd is the third American citizen indicted recently on charges surrounding domestic radicalism and overseas targets. A Minnesota man pleaded guilty Tuesday to supporting terrorists in connection with a trip to Somalia to fight alongside militants. Last week, authorities unveiled a guilty plea by a Long Island native who trained in Pakistan before connecting with al-Qaeda operatives seeking to bomb European rail systems.

Justice Department officials spoke carefully about the unfolding investigation in North Carolina, partly because at least one young man who decamped for Pakistan this year remains at large.

"This case underscores the potential threat that U.S. citizens with foreign fighter experience pose upon returning to the United States, specifically in terms of inciting other U.S.-based individuals to follow their example," said David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. "They return from conflict zones with combat experience, a network of contacts overseas and strong credibility with . . . recruits seeking an authority figure."

For Boyd, his arrest follows an unusual path from an Alexandria classroom to the dusty streets of Afghanistan, according to court filings and interviews with friends and neighbors.

In the 1980s, Boyd converted to Islam after being inspired by his stepfather, William Saddler, a Washington area lawyer and devout Muslim. Boyd journeyed after high school to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join Islamic resistance fighters battling the Soviet Union.

In 1991, he and his brother were arrested in Peshawar, Pakistan, where Boyd spent months fighting an unusual criminal fraud case. He was convicted by an Islamic court of bank robbery and sentenced to lose his right hand and his left foot, until an appeals panel tossed out the verdict. Boyd and his wife, Sabrina, his high school sweetheart, returned to the United States, where they made a home for their three young boys in a quiet corner of North Carolina.

Eventually, Boyd devoted himself to instructing young men that "violent jihad was a personal obligation on the part of every good Muslim," according to court papers filed in a criminal case that now threatens to send him to prison for life.

Sabrina Boyd issued a statement yesterday through the Muslim American Society in Raleigh describing hers as an "ordinary family" and asking that people not prejudge the criminal case.

Daniel Boyd's mother, who lives in the Washington area, declined to comment.

The arrests of Boyd, whose beard extends to his chest, his sons Zakariya and Dylan, and four others stunned neighbors in picturesque Willow Spring, a southern suburb of Raleigh. The family lived in a home valued at $171,000, supported by a construction business that Boyd established, according to state records.

"They were just normal American kids and a normal American father," said Charles Casale, 46, a neighbor who for years has shared fishing and gardening tips with the Boyds.

Daniel Boyd kept a vegetable garden and placed a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on his brown pickup truck. In their free time, the boys fished for largemouth bass and catfish from a small green canoe in a neighborhood pond, Casale said.

Acquaintances in North Carolina searched for clues that could explain Boyd's recent activities as they were laid out in the court documents. Two years ago, the couple's youngest son, Luqman, died after his car flipped and ejected him. Years earlier, the young family had run into financial trouble so severe that Daniel Boyd filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Boyds occasionally attended Friday prayer services at Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman, the largest Sunni mosque in Durham. But they broke with the mosque over Daniel Boyd's strict interpretation of Islamic law and practices, according to friends and members of the congregation.

Ultimately, the family held prayer services in their home on a cul de sac on Lakeside Circle. Still, Hisham Heda, the chairman of the board at the mosque, said that "in our dealings with Mr. Boyd and his family, we found them to be people of good moral character."

Zuhair Osman, 23, another board member, who is close friends with the woman Dylan Boyd married at the mosque last year, said the younger Boyd is a very nice, highly respected young man who never drank, smoke or partied, "but at the same time, he was a little more strict and religious." Dylan Boyd sometimes debated friends about his view that devout Muslims should not be photographed or allow their pictures to be posted on the Internet, Osman said, adding that he was speaking personally and not representing the mosque.

Osman added that Daniel Boyd, whom he knew as Saifullah, or "sword of God," had dealt with the FBI for five years, discussing his militant activities in the 1980s but saying he was no longer interested in politics. The FBI "did come to him with pictures of terrorists killed in Afghanistan, and he did recognize some of them. They had worked together and established relationships," Osman said. "He was very aware that he was being watched [by the FBI] in everything he did. . . . He was never afraid."

A Joint Terrorism Task Force had been tracking Boyd at least since 2006, monitoring his e-mail and phone calls, according to conversations cited in the indictment. Authorities were interested in Boyd's growing stockpile of armor-piercing assault weapons and his rural training expeditions on the Virginia border with young Muslim men, as well as the networks he used to finance and plan trips overseas.

Officials sprang into action Monday after learning that Boyd, his two sons and his wife might be planning a move this year to Jordan, where at least some followers had visited in recent years, according to two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation continues.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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