FBI Encountered Accused Ark. Shooter In Yemen FBI agents first encountered Abdulhakim Muhammad, the suspect in the deadly shooting at a military recruiting center in Arkansas last week, in a Yemeni prison. They say he claimed to study religion, but he was linked to a school that was well-known for its terrorist ties.
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FBI Encountered Accused Ark. Shooter In Yemen

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FBI Encountered Accused Ark. Shooter In Yemen

FBI Encountered Accused Ark. Shooter In Yemen

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now, more about the man accused of killing Private Long. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has this report.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: His real name was Carlos Bledsoe. He was 23. He grew up in Tennessee and he converted to Islam in high school and traveled to Yemen in 2007. FBI agents first encountered him in a Yemeni prison a year later. And officials close to the investigation say what they learned alarmed them. The young American claimed to be in Yemen to study religion, but he was at a school there that was well-known for its terrorist ties. He had a fake Somali passport, even though he was carrying a perfectly valid American one.

Agents were concerned the Somali passport was a way for Abdulhakim Muhammad to travel to places he didn't want U.S. authorities to know about. Muhammad's lawyer in Little Rock, Jim Hensley, says the second passport wasn't so sinister.

Mr. JIM HENSLEY (Lawyer): That Somali passport came into being because, like you said, they're lying on park benches around Yemen and the whole reason he needed one was because he had overstayed his visa, was married and did not want to leave.

TEMPLE-RASTON: After talking to him in Yemen, FBI officials opened a preliminary investigation into Muhammad. After he was deported back to the U.S., agents visited him on several occasions, but aside from his suspicious affiliations in Yemen, they had nothing on him. So there's no indication that last week's events could've been prevented, but FBI officials do think his time in Yemen radicalized Muhammad.

Hensley says his client saw things in Yemen that upset him — things that changed him. And while he stopped short of providing a motive for the shooting, he did say that Muhammad came back from Yemen angry at the U.S. military.

Mr. HENSLEY: The kids that he is seeing are - some of them are refugees from Afghanistan and some of these children are missing arms, some of them are terribly disfigured.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Muhammad told his lawyer that he blamed the U.S. military for the children's injuries. He said he met Afghan women who claimed to have been raped by U.S. soldiers.

Mr. HENSLEY: For whatever reason, he winds up in a prison in Yemen around people who certainly don't appreciate America, and then they start telling him of - hey, look what you've seen, look what's going on - and all this stuff weighs heavy on the young man, and he wants to do something.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Authorities say that something was the shooting outside the recruiting center in Little Rock. Last week, the chief of the Little Rock police department, Stuart Thomas, tried to tamp down speculation that Muhammad was part of something bigger.

Mr. STUART THOMAS (Chief, Little Rock Police Department): Mr. Muhammad appears to have acted alone. There doesn't appear to be a wider plot at this point in time.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Hensley said his client assured him that there were no other attacks planned. FBI agents are still combing through Muhammad's past to make sure that's true. Hensley says there are lessons to be taken from the incident.

Mr. HENSLEY: All right, if this young man growing up in middle America, can be turned against his own country, if it happened to this young man, it can happen to any young man. It can happen to anybody.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Which, of course, is exactly what worries the FBI. They've been questioning elders at a Tennessee mosque Muhammad attended. And agents in Yemen are trying to make sure that Muhammad's radicalization didn't include anyone else who might one day turn up in the U.S. in some violent way.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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