Daoud Salahuddin, 29, suspected assassin of Ali Akbar Tabatabai, has at the same time become a folk hero to some Muslims here while other Muslims consider him a blemish on their reputation.
Whatever Muslims and others say about him, Salahuddin's alleged crime, according to those who know him, was one of conviction born through a long simmering frustration with the American government and social structure.
Salahuddin's story is similar to stories of other young men and women, who, alienated from and feeling mistreated by this country's political and social systems, sought alternatives. Salahuddin and some radical Muslims who are American blacks became entranced by the lingering rhetoric of the 1960s, inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X, Franz Fanon, and others, and were excited by the prospects of revolutions overseas that would carry worldwide significance.
They became frustrated with what they thought was the limited progress of the American civil rights movement. And at the onset of the Islamic revolution in Iran, they found a way to convert ideology into strategic reality.
"Men like Daoud never get to the place where they can feel like they contribute to the revolutionary struggle," said Gen. Hassan Jeru-Ahmed, head of the Backman's Development Center, a third-party custody facility for people in trouble with the law here. Salahuddin was a field lieutenant in Hassan's "army" for about a year.
"Daoud had a sense of mission, but it was a warped sense of mission," Hassan said. "He had the posture of a soldier when he was with us. When he worked for (pro-Khomeini Iranian activist Bahram) Nahidian at the Iranian Embassy, he finally had something he could sink his teeth into.
"It is apparent that he played his role to the hilt as a soldier in the name of Islam, according to his belief." Hassan said.
Sources who know Salahuddin say his committment to his faith, while it may be misguided, is genuine. He has taught classes in Islam to offenders at the Lorton Reformatory and D.C. Jail and was among the group of pro-Khomeini demonstrators who took over the Statue of Liberty last year when the American hostages were seized in Tehran. Also, he was one of the captains of a security guard of Muslims stationed at the Iranian Embassy here several months ago when it was ordered closed. Some say that until his flight from the United States after Tabatabai's killing, he was also the bodyguard of Nahidian, the Georgetown rug merchant and operative of the new Iranian government in the United States.
Salahuddin was born David Theodore Belfield on Nov. 10, 1950, in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., the third of five children of Charles and Jackie Belfield. The family moved to the suburban community of Bay Shore, Long Island, about 45 miles east of New York City, where the black and white communities were then, and to some extent now, divided by railroad tracks and the elevated Sunrise Highway.
It is a commuter town with frame and-brick homes and a declining Main Street of small businesses struggling to survive. Many of the Bay Shore breadwinners work in New York City.
In high school, Salahuddin was known as quiet, affable and bright. Some knew him then said he kept bad company. Nonetheless he was active in sports, especially football, track and basketball, and worked for the school part-time as an aide in the athletic department.
"He played football with my son and he was a bright kid." said Elijah Darson, who was the school's athletic deirector during the late 1960s. "There was never any indication he would do anything like what we've heard on the news. I cannot look back in retrospect and see anything that would have led me to believe that he would turn out this way."
Jack Twyman, a family friend and Salahuddin's freshman football coach, said "I was shocked to hear about him. He comes from a fine family.
"His father was a college graduate, who, facing limited opportunities, left the South and worked as a security guard at South Side Hospital (on Long Island)," Twyman said. "His brothers and sisters are all doing well. After his father's death, his mother worked hard, bringing up the children, giving them all she could afford to give. I strongly believe taht Teddy as we called him, didn't get that kind of preaching at home and I hope to God it's not true what they say" about the Tabatabai case.
Betty J. Siegel was one of Salahuddin's guidance counselors at Bay Shore High School and in 1968 wrote a letter of recommendation to Howard University on his behalf. Salahuddin had a keen interest in American history and was promoted to an advanced American history call in high school, she said.
His interest in history, politics, and government continued after high school. He was accepted at Howard University for the 1968-69 school year and took courses in Greek civilization, elementary Spanish and others, but he never graduated.
He began to dabble in socialist and Marxist philosophies about the time he joined Hassan's organization and began to deepen his faith in Islam. Hassan structured his organization along military lines to maintain order, develope respect for authority and following orders, something that seemed difficult for some of the criminal offenders who were in Hassan's charge.
"When he first came to my organization he was a strong young man, eager to learn, to follow orders, and he was easily liked," Hassan said. "Daoud left (in early 1970 after a year) because he wanted to get deeper into Marxism, which we did not."
It is unclear whether Salahuddin still believes in Marxism as a path to revolution. However, sources say that Salahuddin believes in revolution as a necessary precursor for change. The revolution in Iran took on the significance of a holy war, called "jihad," in which the enemy has become the United States government and those like Tabatabai who oppose the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Islamic revolutionies believe according to their faith, that if they are hurt or killed in the cause of Islam, they are assured of a seat in paradise and will be treated as important people in the world of revolution.
But to some who knew Salahuddin earlier, that distinction is lost amid questions of why an American black would get involved in a struggle foreign to them and thousands of miles away.
"I don't understand this at all" said Salahuddin's aunt, Hattie Belfield, a Newark, N.J. resident. "When I saw his picture flashed up on the television screen, and heard what the newscaster was saying about him, I nearly died. People here are so shocked. They know the family is much different than that."