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An Iranian born graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is facing attempted murder charges after running down students on campus with a rented SUV. Mohammed Teheri-azar drove a Jeep Cherokee through a popular campus gathering spot, hitting nine people. Six were treated at the hospital and released. According to campus police, Teheri-azar said he did it to avenge Muslim deaths around the world. Now some UNC students say he should be treated as a terrorist.
Rusty Jacobs, of North Carolina Public Radio, reports.
RUSTY JACOBS: Police didn't have to search high and low for Mohammed Teheri-azar after his hit and run attack last Friday. After parking his rented vehicle at an intersection near the Chapel Hill campus, Teheri-azar calmly called 911.
(SOUNDBITE OF 911 CALL)
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: Orange County dispatch.
MOHAMMED TEHERI: Yes sir. I just hit several people with a vehicle and --
DISPATCHER: Okay you, sir, you said you hit several people with a vehicle?
TEHERI: Yes, sir. And right now --
DISPATCHER: Where did this, sir, tell me where this happened at?
TEHERI: On campus at the pit. And right now I'm standing and you can come arrest me.
DISPATCHER: Well, hold on, sir, sir -
JACOBS: Over a four minute conversation, the 911 dispatcher took Teheri-azar's address, asked him why he did what he did, and kept him company until police arrived. Toward the end of the call, the dispatcher succeeded in getting Teheri-azar to explain his actions.
TEHERI: It was really to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world.
JACOBS: Teheri-azar, a U.S. citizen, had his first court appearance in Orange County yesterday, and said he would represent himself with the help of Allah. The court has appointed a public defender to assist Teheri-azar until its determined he's competent enough to represent himself.
Meanwhile, on campus, university officials are treating Teheri-azar's act as a violent crime, while some students have labeled it terrorism. A student-led rally to protest the university's position sparked debate on the issue.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: — isolated groups who are trying to condemn all acts of terrorism.
MAN: So why are using stuff like religious --
JACOBS: Senior Chris Wompler (ph) is a member of the college Republicans and organizer of the rally.
CHRIS WOMPLER: He went through a radical means of getting his message out. He hit innocent people, and he basically blamed them for what he thinks of as slights against the Muslim world. So if anyone else did that in the name of Christianity or anything else, I think it'd be really the same thing.
JACOBS: But Horabe Ilal Turik (ph) begs to differ. The UNC junior and biology major is a Pakistani-born Muslim.
HORABE ILAL TURIK: Let's not relate this specific act to the broader terrorism that's happening all over the globe. When you think of terrorism in today's context, you think about al-Qaida and, you know, stuff of that nature. And this is a student who did not say I'm doing this on behalf of Islam or Muslims, he said I did it because I don't like what's happening to Muslims in general.
JACOBS: In a legal sense, Mohammad Teheri-azar's attack probably doesn't qualify as terrorism. Duke University law professor Scott Silliman runs the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security.
SCOTT SILLIMAN: Most of the crimes of terrorism are either supporting a terrorist organization or committing crimes overseas against Americans, or, within the United States, using some kind of a weapon of mass destruction, an explosive device, like Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing. But when you're dealing with a situation as you have here in Chapel Hill, what he said he was doing and why he said he was doing it does not automatically make it a federal crime.
JACOBS: No federal charges have been filed in the case so far, but Silliman says Teheri-azar could possibly be charged in federal court for violating his victims' civil rights.
For NPR News, I'm Rusty Jacobs.
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