CNN, June 5, 2009
The Tennessee man suspected in Monday’s attack on a recruitment center in Little Rock, Arkansas, was brainwashed and tortured while imprisoned in Yemen, his lawyer said Thursday.
“My client is a young man, I think, brainwashed,” attorney Jim Hensley told CNN. “What else could be explained for a young man who’s a true American, plays football, helps his grandmother and mows the lawns of his neighbors? Comes back and then finds himself in this situation? That is not a normal situation in my book.”
Abdulhakim Muhammad, formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe, is charged with killing Pvt. William Long, 23, of Conway, Arkansas, and wounding Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula, 18, of Jacksonville, Arkansas.
In September 2007, Muhammad left Tennessee State University in Nashville, where he was studying business, and traveled to Yemen to teach English to children and to learn Arabic.
There, “he felt at peace with these people,” even marrying a Yemeni, Hensley said.
But things began to change when his client was detained for a minor visa violation in Yemen and sent to prison, where he was housed with radical Islamic fundamentalists, Hensley said.
In November 2008, Muhammad was arrested in the port city of Aden for overstaying his visa and deported two months later in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy, a Yemeni official said.
Hensley said Muhammad told him that, during the last two weeks he was held, he was deprived of sleep and food and “was slapped around a little bit,” enduring beatings on the backs of his legs.
During Muhammad’s time in the prison, an FBI agent visited him not as an ally but as an interrogator, Hensley said.
However, Mohammed AlBasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy, rejected Hensley’s assertion. “It is understood that the process of radicalization can take a number of years, not a couple of weeks,” he said. “So, the statement that his lawyer made, that he was brainwashed and tortured for weeks in Yemen, are baseless.”
Hensley said he was speaking to the news media because Muhammad had asked him to. “His agenda is different from mine; he wants to be a martyr,” the lawyer said.
[Editor’s Note: An earlier story on the recruitment-center shootings can be read here.]