Local News

Friends, lawyers: Terror suspects don't fit profile

Posted July 29, 2009 4:21 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2009 12:16 a.m. EDT

— A Johnston County woman who was close to the Willow Spring family at the center of a terrorism case described them Wednesday as quiet and respectful and said they became more immersed in their religious beliefs in recent years.

Likewise, people familiar with other suspects in the case called them regular guys and dismissed the notion that they were engaged in any terrorist activity.

Seven people were arrested Monday on charges they sought to wage "violent jihad" in the Middle East and raised money, bought weapons and trained in North Carolina to carry out their plan.

Federal authorities are seeking an unidentified eighth suspect in the case who is believed to be in Pakistan. A WRAL News source has identified the suspect as Jude Kenan Mohammad, 20, of Wake County.

Daniel Patrick Boyd, 39, and his sons, Dylan Boyd, 22, and Zakariya "Zak" Boyd, 20, are expected to appear in federal court in Raleigh next Tuesday. Three others charged, Hysen Sherifi, 24, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 22, and Ziyad Yaghi, 21, also are expected to appear Tuesday for detention hearings.

A seventh defendant, Anes Subasic, 33, has requested a Yugoslavian interpreter for his court hearing, so it's unclear when that hearing will be held.

Terrorism suspects 'like family to me'

The Boyds live in a quiet neighborhood in Willow Spring, and former neighbor Sheila Hoylman said Dylan and Zak Boyd grew up with her children, often spending the night at her house.

"It's a true shock just because I know them so personally," Hoylman said of the terrorism charges.

"They've never been rude or disrespectful to me or my family. They were like family to me," she said. "They respected my beliefs. I respected theirs."

Dylan played in the band while at West Johnston High School. Zak was an Eagle Scout who was two years behind his brother at the school.

Brooke Pardue, who sat next to Zak in history class, said the brothers were quiet and studious.

"They kept to themselves (and) weren't loud or ever in fights or anything," Pardue said.

Tuscarora Boy Scout Council executive Harold Keller said Daniel Boyd was a scout leader, but noted his troop consisted mainly of family members. The terrorism charges against the family are shocking, he said.

"The actions represented in these allegations are reprehensible, and they stand in direct contrast to what scouting and its millions of adult volunteers and youth participants stand for," Keller said.

Hoylman said she mourned with the family two years ago when another son, 16-year-old Luqman Izzubeen “Luke” Boyd, died in a single-car wreck near Benson.

Since then, however, she lost touch with them as they moved deeper into their Islamic beliefs. Daniel Boyd's drywall installation business went under financially – Hoylman worked for him – and the family began selling Middle Eastern clothing and food from a store in Garner that is now vacant.

"They just distanced themselves from the people they used to know and were closer together as a family in their religion," she said.

Daniel Boyd and his sons grew long beards, and Sabrina Boyd and her daughter started covering their heads and faces with scarves, Hoylman said.

Dylan Boyd is now married and expecting a child, and Hoylman said when she ran into him last Friday, she couldn't give him a hug because Islamic law prohibits a married woman from touching a man who isn't related to her. Still, she said, she recognized him as a family friend, not a terrorist.

"I never saw any signs of him being a terrorist, ever," she said.

'This kid is not a terrorist'

Hassan and Mohammad also don't fit the image of a terrorist, according to attorneys that know them.

Raleigh attorney Karl Knudsen said he met with Hassan Tuesday night in the Wake County Detention Center, and Hassan was in tears over the charges against him.

"This kid is not a terrorist. He wasn't a terrorist in the past, and he's not a terrorist now. He would never be a terrorist," Knudsen said. "He unfortunately got caught up in a net that was put out there to catch somebody else, and I think that when all is said and done, people will come to that realization."

Knudsen represented Hassan last year when he, Yaghi and two others were charged with kidnapping and robbery. Knudsen said the case boiled down to the four men taking another man to an automated teller machine to collect a $70 debt, and he said he believes Hassan was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Hassan was convicted of false imprisonment and spent 41 days in jail. His arrest forced him to drop out of North Carolina State University, where he was studying sociology, Knudsen said.

Yaghi was convicted of felonious restraint, spent four months in jail and was released on probation.

Raleigh lawyer Earle Purser said Mohammad was sharp, polite and funny when he represented him in a speeding case last year.

"I talked to him, and I was impressed with his intelligence and knowledge of things," Purser said, recalling that Mohammad talked to him about terrorism but said most Muslims are peaceful.

Mohammad was cited for driving 105 mph in a 55-mph zone, but his lawyer said he never showed up for court last fall.

Purser later learned Mohammad left the U.S. last year to travel to his father's homeland in Pakistan. Mohammad made national news when he was arrested for traveling illegally into a tribal region along the Afghanistan border.

"Soon after, I got a call from a reporter in England who said they'd had to chase him down to wild areas of Pakistan, and they couldn't find him anymore," Purser said.

Two of Mohammad's relatives, who didn't want to be identified, told WRAL News that he is "a good kid" who stayed with them for a time when he was a teenager. He dropped out of Fuquay-Varina High School, got his GED from Wilson Community College and attended Wake Technical Community College, they said.

They said he went to Pakistan with the hopes that his father would pay for him to attend college there. He planned to study math, they said.

The relatives said they haven't heard from him since he left for Pakistan and said they believe his arrest there last fall was a misunderstanding.