Murder suspect says he wanted to start terror cell

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The man accused of fatally shooting a soldier outside a military recruiting station in Little Rock in 2009 now says he wanted to start a terrorist cell in the U.S., but a prosecutor brushed off the claims Saturday as “just ridiculous.”

In his latest letter to the court, Abdulhakim Muhammad told Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright that he wanted to return to the U.S. from Yemen to start his own terror group. Muhammad was deported from Yemen in early 2009, after being in prison in the Middle Eastern country for immigration violations.

Muhammad was born in Memphis, Tenn., as Carlos Bledsoe, but changed his name after converting to Islam.

He is charged with capital murder and attempted capital murder in the June 2009 shootings that killed Army Pvt. William Long and wounded Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. The letter, first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, focuses on Muhammad’s argument that his case should be tried in federal court.

Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said there was little he could say about the letter.

“I mean, his claims are just ridiculous. He’s nothing but a street thug and this is just a drive-by shooting. That’s our position and we’re sticking to it,” Jegley told The Associated Press.

Muhammad’s attorney, Claiborne H. Ferguson, said his client was likely stressed ahead of his trial, which is set to begin in July.

“As we get closer to trial, I can imagine that the situation will become more and more stressful for Muhammad. Members of the defense team are prepared to move forward and try the case as necessary,” he said.

The FBI did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

When Muhammad was arrested minutes after the shootings, he told police that he was acting alone and that the ambush was a “jihad” in retaliation for what he believed was a war on Islam by the U.S. Seven months later, in a letter from jail, he claimed to be linked to a Yemen-based al-Qaida affiliate.

Muhammad has told the AP in telephone interviews from jail that the shooting was revenge for American killings of Muslims and that he does not believe he is guilty.

In his latest letter, which the court received Friday, Muhammad continued to dispute the insanity defense his attorneys plan to use at his trial. He notes that state doctors have found him competent to stand trial.

“I have no mental disease or defect, neither past or present. I was well aware of my actions June 1, 2009, as well as my actions before and after that date,” he wrote. “So dismiss the case and try it in federal court where I will have a better defense other than mental instability.”

He also noted that the shootings occurred outside a federal building and “the Army recruiters outside that federal building were federal employees. He claims he was under federal investigation at the time of the shooting.

Wright, the judge, has refused Muhammad’s request to fire his attorneys.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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