Local News

Students To Protest UNC's Reluctance To Label Pit Incident Terrorism

Posted March 6, 2006
Updated December 31, 2006

— Protests are planned for Monday in the same area of campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where, authorities said, a former student plowed a sport utility vehicle into nine people Friday afternoon.

The College Republicans, Americans for an Informed Democracy and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are sponsoring the event, scheduled for 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday in "The Pit," a central area of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The event is open to the public and free of charge.

Police said Mohammad Taheri-azar, a 2005 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, admits he acted to "avenge the death of Muslims around the world." UNC police and local authorities, however, say they have not taken a stance on that interpretation, but are simply repeating what the suspect has told them.

UNC-Chapel Hill student leaders said that Monday's protest is aimed at the reluctance of the university to label Friday's incident as an act of terrorism.

"This is innocent people being attacked by an SUV, driven by a man who was doing it for retaliation for treatment of Muslims around the world," said Jillian Bandes, with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "To me, that spells terrorism."

Taheri-azar, who is currently in Raleigh's Central Prison under a $5.5 million bond, is charged with nine counts of attempted first-degree murder and nine counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill.

Because of what Taheri-azar admitted to local authorities, the FBI is also participating in the investigation. FBI spokesman Ken Lucas said Sunday, however, that a federal investigation is still ongoing.

But were Taheri-azar's alleged actions acts of terrorism?

"I think (what Taheri-azar did) is extreme," said Dan VanAtta, a friend of the suspect. "But then again, I don't know what was going through his head. ... Mohammed was a good guy."

David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, said it is fine for students to voice their dismay, but that they should be cautious.

"(They should) understand the roots of it and understand the strategies for addressing it in a constructive way," Schanzer said.

He takes the same position as officials at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, who have publicly stated that they do not condone the incident: authorities should decide how Friday's incident will be classified, and that the investigation should run its due course.

"Whether or not the FBI decides to charge this individual with a crime of terrorism, I think it was a terroristic act," Schanzer said.

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