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Muhammad a Gulf War vet, Islam convert

Ex-wife described as 'in shock' over Muhammad's arrest


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(CNN) -- John Allen Muhammad, one of the two suspects in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks, is a twice-divorced, 41-year-old Gulf War veteran who converted to Islam 17 years ago and earned an expert marksmanship badge in the U.S. Army.

The 6-foot-1-inch Muhammad, also known as John Allen Williams, was stationed in the 1980s at Fort Lewis, Washington, about 15 miles from Tacoma, and at the now-closed Fort Ord, near Monterey, California.

A duplex in Tacoma where Muhammad once lived was searched by authorities Wednesday.

Muhammad was arrested on a federal firearms violation early Thursday at a Maryland rest stop along with 17-year-old John Lee Malvo, a Jamaican citizen who is also considered a suspect. Both made separate initial appearances in federal court Thursday afternoon.

The two are not related, although law enforcement sources said they lived together in the Washington area. Sources initially identified Malvo as Muhammad's stepson.

Muhammad enlisted in the Army in November 1985 and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in April 1994. He was trained as a mechanic, truck driver and as a specialist metal worker.

He qualified as an expert with the M-16, the Army's standard infantry rifle. The rating is the Army's highest of three levels of marksmanship for the typical soldier.

To receive an expert badge for the M-16, Muhammad would have had to hit 36 out of 40 targets ranging from 50 to 300 meters during his yearly qualification on the M-16.

A law enforcement source told CNN that a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle was found in suspects' car. The Bushmaster .223 rifle is a civilian version of M-16. All the sniper victims -- 10 dead, three wounded since October 2 -- were hit by a single .223-caliber shot.

Felix Strozier ran a martial arts school with Muhammad in Tacoma several years ago and described Muhammad as a "pretty nice person."

At first, Strozier said their relationship was fine but said they had a falling out after Muhammad borrowed $500 from the school and never repaid the debt. The school closed in 1998.

"I know he was manipulative," Strozier said. "He would do anything to get his way."

He described Muhammad as a strong believer in Islam who attended the Million Man March in Washington in 1995.

The Associated Press reported that a former neighbor of Muhammad's said he provided security at the march, which was organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Nation of Islam officials in Chicago had no immediate comment, according to the AP.

Tracy Urery, who said she knew Muhammad recently in Camden, New Jersey, said she as "shocked" at the news of Muhammad's arrest.

"I don't think he's like that," she said.

Bitter custody battles

The Seattle Times reported Muhammad had four children by two marriages that ended in divorce. Both involved bitter custody battles and at least one accusation that he abducted the children, the Times reported, but court records showed no felony record for him in Washington state.

In court documents obtained by CNN, Mildred Diane Muhammad, Muhammad's second wife, wrote that her ex-husband was an irrational man who repeatedly threatened to "destroy my life" and told her he would "not let me raise our children."

Mildred Muhammad twice applied for an order of protection against her husband, and was granted a permanent order on March 17, 2000.

"I am afraid of John," Mildred Muhammad wrote in a March 3, 2000, complaint. "He was a demolition expert in the military. He's behaving very, very irrational. Whenever he does talk with me, he always says that he's going to destroy my life and I hang up the phone."

JOHN ALLEN MUHAMMAD

  • 41 years old
  • Gulf War veteran
  • Twice divorced
  • Converted to Islam 17 years ago
  • But affidavits attached to the Muhammads' divorce filings described Muhammad as an "excellent father," and question his wife's version of their marriage.

    In late 1998, family friend Anthony Muhammad said in divorce papers filed in 2001, "Mildred ... began losing the ability to maintain the professional standards she had set."

    Anthony Muhammad said he prayed his affidavit "helps bring justice and closure to this unfortunate circumstance."

    Gail Horne, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, lawyer representing Carol Williams, Muhammad's first wife, said Thursday that her client was contacted Wednesday by federal authorities.

    "She's in shock, like, you know I think anyone would be, if this came up in the middle of the night last night, you know you go about your daily routine and you know you're hearing about things that are occurring, horrible things in other places, and then all of a sudden, it all converges on your doorstep, so I think that anybody would kind of be in shock," Horne said.

    Sheron Norman, Muhammad's former sister-in-law, said Muhammad took her nephew to Washington for visitation for the summer after not seeing him for six years. At the end of the summer, Norman said Muhammad refused to send the boy home.

    "I'm praying that John didn't do this, I'm just going to leave it at that," Norman said. "John, he's done some things to my family ... and I'm just hoping that this is something that he didn't do."

    Converted to Islam after first marriage ended

    The Times reported Thursday that Muhammad converted to Islam after he and Williams divorced. The Times quoted Williams as saying he converted to Islam 17 years ago, about the same time he joined the Army.

    "After he changed his religion, he called and told me what not to feed my child," she said. "I told him as long as he [their son] lived with me, it was up to me."

    Williams told the Times that Muhammad was outgoing and had a good sense of humor. "He wasn't a quiet type. He liked to talk. He liked to mingle with people," she told the Times.

    The Seattle Times also reported that federal sources told the newspaper that Muhammad and Malvo were known to speak sympathetically about the September 11 hijackers and may have been motivated by anti-American sentiment.

    Asked if Muhammad had ever expressed anti-American beliefs to him, Strozier said no.

    Strozier also said Muhammad led him to believe that his military experience included serving in the U.S. Special Forces, the Army's special operations soldiers known as the Green Berets. The 1st Special Forces Group is headquartered at Fort Lewis.

    Military officials told CNN that Muhammad was not in Special Forces. During his military career, Muhammad was assigned to four different engineering units. Muhammad also served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978 to 1985 and in the Oregon National Guard in 1994 and 1995.

    His military record shows that he received a summary court-martial on August 2, 1982, in the Louisiana National Guard.

    He was tried on one count of failing to report to his duty station on time, three counts of willfully disobeying an order, one count of striking another noncommissioned officer, one count of wrongfully taking property, and one count of being absent without leave. He was demoted one grade and served seven days confinement.

    It is not clear if the active duty recruiter knew about this when Muhammad enlisted in 1985, but it would not have necessarily kept him out of the Army back in the 1980s, officials told CNN.

    In Baton Rouge, Sheila Tezando, Muhammad's sister-in-law, said she last saw Muhammad and Malvo three months ago at her home in Baton Rouge when they were in town for a visit.

    Tezando said there was nothing in their demeanor that would lead her to believe they were capable of any violent act. "This is all a shock," she said.


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