Suspect's letters

Before he became a Muslim intent on killing students at UNC, he attended Baptist Sunday school as a child and Catholic school in ninth grade. Before he decided to attack, he'd wanted to go to graduate school to get his doctorate in clinical psychology. And before he drove an SUV through the Pit on March 3, he'd wanted to join the military so he could drop a nuclear bomb over Washington, D.C. Mohammad Taheri-Azar, a UNC alumnus now under a $5.5 million bond in Raleigh's Central Prison, also writes in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel that he has no remorse for his actions and that he plans to plead not guilty at his first Superior Court appearance June 20. In the past two weeks, Taheri-Azar has sent 20 letters to the DTH in response to one letter sent to him in March. The letters contain his answers to 39 of the DTH's questions about his attack. They also include information that helps readers understand his mind-set and his motives for his actions - including facts about his biography, his family and his religious background. Finally, they offer the most detailed account of his attack plans yet seen, including more information about why he chose an SUV and why he decided to turn himself in. Plans for attack The letters make clear what Taheri-Azar already has stated on multiple occasions: His faith led him to believe that he was not merely justified in attacking students. Rather, he said, he was obligated to do so because the Quran, the Muslim holy book, urges all believers to attack God's enemies - including, in Taheri-Azar's eyes, American taxpayers who help fund the U.S. military presence overseas. "I launched the attack on March 3, 2006, only in obedience of Allah, and it is never wrong to obey Allah," he writes. At first, Taheri-Azar wanted to enlist in the United States military and use the firepower in his control to attack a U.S. target. "Ideally, for example, I wanted to fly an airplane over Washington, D.C. and drop a nuclear bomb on the city," he writes. He states that he met with Army recruiters twice at his apartment and that he applied to several clinical psychology graduate schools to prepare for a position as a fighter pilot. In February, he decided to abandon that idea and instead wanted to purchase a handgun to carry out an attack on campus. Taheri-Azar states that he visited a gun store in Raleigh and obtained a gun permit application from the Orange County Sheriff's Department in Hillsborough. "Then I changed my mind about attacking with a gun because they seem to jam very easily," he writes. "I decided to attack with an automobile in the Pit instead - by running over several people in a concentrated target zone." Taheri-Azar left his apartment at 303 Smith Level Road just before noon and headed for campus. He played techno music, slowly made his way past Manning Hall, and then put his Jeep in four-wheel drive. He ran into several people, injuring nine - eight UNC students and a visiting scholar - though none seriously. 'I could never be sorry' Taheri-Azar writes that he initially planned to represent himself and plead guilty to the charges against him - nine counts of attempted first-degree murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. He then agreed to be represented by Public Defender James Williams and to plead not guilty. He states in his letters that because he acted according to his religion, he is not guilty. "People who fight in the cause of Allah are not guilty if and when they have no intention of killing more persons among their enemies than their enemies have killed among the believers," he writes. District Attorney James Woodall said courts do not take religion into account when giving a verdict. He said that Taheri-Azar could get a maximum sentence of 150 years in prison. "So far it's pretty clear that he knows what he did, and he understands right or wrong," Woodall said. "It's simply the reason he did it, and it's a political statement." Taheri-Azar states that he has no remorse for his actions. "Since I acted only in obedience and reverence of Allah, I could never be sorry for hurting the victims, unless Allah wanted me to be sorry - which I don't believe is the case, to my knowledge," he writes. Members of the Muslim Students Association have denounced Taheri-Azar's attack and say that he has misinterpreted the Quran. "You can't take any of those verses left alone because of historical context," said Arif Khan, a member of MSA. Khan said members of MSA are compiling a summary and description of the Quran verses that Taheri-Azar cites in his letters as justification for his actions. A gradual change Taheri-Azar was born May 3, 1983, in Iran and moved to the United States at the age of 2 with his parents and older sister. A younger sister was born shortly after. He and his family attended a Baptist church in Charlotte when he was about 4. However, he states, the early experience with religion did not leave a lasting impression. Taheri-Azar attended Charlotte Catholic High School in the ninth grade and took a required religion course about the Bible, though he says he didn't embrace the material. After leaving CCHS, Taheri-Azar writes, he had no further experience with religion until June 2003, when he read a biography about the prophet Muhammad. It was then that Taheri-Azar began reading the Quran. In one letter he states: "Gradually I took it upon myself to read the Quran as much as I could each evening, and I began to abide by its commandments, e.g. praying and being kind to parents, etc. However, after beginning to study Islamic fundamentalism on my own in about July 2004, I began to focus more on the militant verses throughout the Quran." He states that his immediate family never seemed religious and that he does not know their individual religions. "Most likely they are completely against my actions on March 3, 2006, since they are American citizens and taxpayers," he writes. Thus, Taheri-Azar began a gradual separation from his family and friends - a separation that continues today, as he has asked family members to stop visiting him in jail. Laila Taheri-Azar, Mohammad's older sister, said she and her family are unhappy with her brother's actions and the letters he has written to the DTH. "What lies behind those words written . is very different from those words on a piece of paper," she said Tuesday in an interview. She added that Mohammad Taheri-Azar has been in contact with psychologists. "This is where he's at right now, and it does not mean this is who he has been or who he's going to be," she said. "This is one moment in a 23-year-old boy's life." In his words Mohammad Taheri-Azar writes about a variety of issues in the 20 letters he has sent The Daily Tar Heel since he was placed in jail. On his goals: "My goal for the attack at UNC-CH on March 3, 2006 was to retaliate against United States taxpayers (which I also consider to be part of the government since their tax money keeps it in power) for their responsibility in the evictions, tortures and killings of Allah's followers in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba." On his education: "For the most part, I was aiming to follow in the footsteps of Muhammed Atta, one of the 9/11/01 hijackers, who obtained a doctorate degree just prior to 9/11/01." On his weapon: "I was considering acquiring a handgun to suddenly open fire inside Lenoir Dining Hall, but decided against this plan because the gun may have malfunctioned and acquiring one would have attracted attention to me from the FBI in all likelihood." On his conscience: "Due to my religious motivation for the attack, I feel no remorse and am proud to have carried it out in service of and obedience of Allah." Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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