RALEIGH, N.C. — A Triangle native who traveled to Pakistan around 2008 “to engage in violent jihad,” according to a federal indictment, could be dead, says a friend.
Jude Kenan Mohammad, 22, is accused of being part of a terrorist cell based in Johnston County, along with eight other men. Authorities say they plotted a series of attacks overseas and secured weapons and trained in North Carolina. Mohammad is the only one who hasn’t been captured.
Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the North Carolina Muslim American Society, says she knew Mohammad well and described him as “just a regular neighborhood kid,” but also “a vulnerable youth.”
Mohammad grew up in the Raleigh area with his American-born mother and four sisters. He dropped out of Fuquay-Varina High School in 2006, received his GED at Wilson Community College and later attended Wake Technical Community College.
“He was just an ordinary kid, very good-natured. (Then) he met Daniel Boyd,” Sabra said.
Boyd and his sons, Dylan "Mohammed" Boyd, 25, and Zakariya "Zak" Boyd, 22, pleaded guilty in the terrorism case last year. Three of the others – Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 23, Ziyad Yaghi, 22, and Hysen Sherifi, 26 – were convicted in October.
The seventh defendant, Anes Subasic, has yet to be tried. The eighth man, Bajram Asllani, 30, was arrested in Kosovo last year, but the U.S. doesn't have an extradition treaty with that country.
Sabra says Mohammad left for Peshwar, Pakistan, in 2008 with one goal – to make jihad – because he didn't agree with the war in Afghanistan and said he was going there to fight. Family members have insisted he went there in hopes that his father, a native of Pakistan, would pay for his college education there.
“He was never secret about his intentions,” Sabra said. “(But) had he not spent some of his last days here with Daniel Boyd, I don’t believe he would be where he is today.”
Since then, Mohammad has left few public clues to his whereabouts. Authorities arrested him near a checkpoint at the Afghanistan border for not having the proper paperwork, but he skipped his court date.
A Facebook page under his alias, “Jawad Khan Afridi,” shows what may be pictures from Pakistan in 2008. His friend, Farhan Mohammed, says he heard from Jude Mohammad several times over the past few years, most recently a year ago.
“He was soul-searching. What is the purpose of life,” Farhan Mohammed said. “He called to say, 'What’s going on? Doing good here,' you know.‘I got family.' News that he got married and stuff I got married.’”
Farhan Mohammed says he heard in November that his friend was killed in a drone strike. Jude Mohammad’s pregnant wife was hysterical about her husband's death and called her mother-in-law in the Triangle to break the news, according to Sabra. The U.S. government hasn't confirmed Mohammad’s death, but the people who knew him in North Carolina say it's probably true.
“No one has heard from him since then,” Sabra said, adding that the last time Mohammad contacted a friend was around September.
That’s around the same time news reports surfaced with Mohammad’s name tied to a terrorist threat in New York City on the anniversary of 9/11. Sabra says she doesn’t believe Mohammad was part of that threat because he wouldn’t have been able to get in the county.
The federal government has never commented on reports of his involvement.
David Schanzer heads up the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. He studies homegrown terrorist cells and teaches courses on counter-terrorism strategy and law and homeland security.
“Anybody who kind of has connections and is hanging out in the tribal areas of Pakistan and was connected to Daniel Boyd and shared ideology, obviously, that’s someone you should be worried about,” Schanzer said.
Sabra says she is trying to stop people like Boyd from recruiting young men by using the Muslim religion to justify terrorist acts. She says it's the Muslim community's responsibility to find and report any potential terrorism.
“I think (Mohammad) was mentored by Daniel Boyd, and I hold him responsible for his death,” she said.