Published March 04, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A recent University of North Carolina graduate faces attempted murder charges after he allegedly drove a sport utility vehicle through a popular campus gathering spot Friday, clipping and scattering startled bystanders.
No one was seriously hurt.
Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, who graduated in December after studying psychology and philosophy, was in the custody of campus police. They intended to charge him with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, said police Capt. George Hare.
Taheri-azar called police to surrender and then awaited officers on a street two miles from the campus, authorities said.
The FBI joined the case because Taheri-azar, a native of Iran, "allegedly made statements that he acted to avenge the American treatment of Muslims," said agent Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in Washington. "The ongoing investigation will work to confirm this."
Local investigators declined to discuss a motive.
The incident happened just before noon near the center of campus in an area known as The Pit, a sunken, brick-paved area surrounded by two libraries, a dining hall and the student union.
"I see everyone kind of part because there's a car coming through, and the next thing I know, I'm on his windshield," sophomore Jeff Hoffman, his arm in a bandage, told The Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper.
The Pit is a center of campus activities, with students perched along walkways and steps. Friday's noontime crowd included candidates for Black Student Movement elections.
"He slowly came in, and I thought he was going to stop or something," sophomore Scott Wilson, a candidate, told the newspaper. "But then he sped right through."
Five students and a visiting scholar were treated for minor injuries and released from UNC Hospitals, the university said in a statement. Three other people declined treatment at the scene, police said.
A bomb squad searched Taheri-azar's apartment in nearby Carrboro and declared the building safe. Taheri-azar encouraged authorities to check the apartment after he was arrested.
"He said it almost in a baiting type of way," Carrboro police spokesman Capt. Joel Booker said.
Investigators declined to say what they found in the apartment and continued searching it Friday night for other evidence, Booker said.
The incident came a week after a UNC dormitory resident adviser was killed when he and another student crashed through a dorm window, falling four stories onto the concrete below. The second student remains hospitalized.