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IMAM BADI ALI and others in North Carolina
By TIM WHITMIRE
Associated Press Writer
March 7, 2003, 2:20 AM EST
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina A&T University
has long been famed for the
students who began the civil rights sit-in
movement in 1960, and for
distinguished alumni including the Rev. Jesse
Jackson and Challenger
astronaut Ronald McNair.
But another graduate -- suspected
mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
-- has now brought unwelcome attention to this
city of 210,000, where about
1,000 Arab-Americans are fighting speculation
that Greensboro was a terrorism
Mohammed, who A&T officials said graduated in
1986, is one of three men
accused of terrorist activities who studied in
North Carolina and were active
in Greensboro's small Arab-American community in
Sami Al-Arian, who studied at North Carolina
State University in Raleigh, is
a former University of South Florida professor
arrested last month with seven
others on charges they operated a terrorist cell
at the Florida school and
funneled support to the
His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, who spent
more than 3 1/2 years in
prison on secret evidence linking him to
terrorists before he was deported
last year, also studied at North Carolina A&T. He
graduated before Mohammed
arrived at the historically black school in 1984.
A&T officials say the alleged terrorist
activities of Al-Najjar and Mohammed
are not a reflection on the school.
"North Carolina A&T has graduated over 40,000
alumni who are all over the
world making significant contributions," said
spokeswoman Mable Scott. "It's
our mission to provide the best academic
education possible, and we hope and
pray our graduates do the best thing when they
leave the university."
Prominent members of the city's Arab community
vehemently deny Al-Najjar and
Al-Arian are terrorists.
"I know these guys," said Wajeh Muhammad, a
Greensboro businessman and
treasurer for the Islamic Center of the Triad. "I
ate with them. I know each
and every one of" the eight arrested in Florida.
Mohammed was arrested Saturday in
U.S. officials have said he is
al-Qaida's No. 3 official and that he is believed
to have plotted the Sept.
11 attacks in New York and Washington, as well as
the bombing of a synagogue
in Tunisia, a planned bombing of airplanes over
the Pacific Ocean and other
Muhammad and Badi Ali, head of the Islamic
center, said Mohammed was not part
of their circle of friends.
"I cannot say that I really knew him," Ali said.
"I knew of him. He was
quiet, likable, always smiling, deeply
Still, he doubts U.S. government claims about
Mohammed. "Every time the
American authorities are talking about the arrest
of an alleged al-Qaida
member, they accuse him of everything. 'He is the
brain. He is the
mastermind,'" Ali said. "How many right-hand men
did Osama bin Laden have?"
Muhammad also said the alleged Sept. 11
mastermind was not overtly political
during his time in Greensboro.
"Did Khalid show any leadership qualities then?
No," he said. "He was someone
who will tell you a joke. He will make you
He speculated Mohammed may have changed when he went to
late in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation. It is
there investigators believe
Mohammed met bin Laden.
Muhammad and Ali both said they have been
interviewed by federal agents since
the September 2001 attacks. North Carolina FBI
officials declined to comment
this week on any ongoing investigation in
connection with Mohammed or
Greensboro's Arab community.
The men said there were hundreds of Arabs in
Greensboro in the 1980s, and
that the community was comprised primarily of
Kuwaitis whose engineering
studies were subsidized by a government that
desperately needed engineering
"The money was coming from the oil-rich
countries," said Kenneth Murray, now
interim dean of graduate studies at A&T. As an
engineering professor at Old
Dominion University and A&T during the 1980s,
Murray worked closely with many
"Engineering really is a bootstrap type of
industry," he said. "If you can
get a bunch of engineers in, you can really raise
the standard of living
Scott said when Mohammed graduated there were 283
foreign students out of
A&T's total student body of 5,865.
Muhammad and Ali, both now in their early 40s,
said in the 1980s, members of
the Arab student community gathered for prayers
and food on Friday evenings
and to play soccer on the weekends.
"It was like an angel's society," Ali said.
"People used to love each other,
care for each other. If someone actually
graduated from school and went home,
before he went he would give his belongings to
the other students -- his
furniture, his car."
Ali said the group was far from a breeding ground
"Like any (student) group, we discussed
politics," he added. "And we
discussed the best way to make pizza."
2003-03-10 Mon 12:17ct