CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A University of North Carolina graduate from Iran, accused of running down nine people on campus to avenge the treatment of Muslims, said at a hearing Monday that he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah."
Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar was accused of driving a sport utility vehicle through The Pit, a popular campus gathering spot, injuring nine people Friday. None of the victims was seriously hurt.
Police Chief Derek Poarch said Taheri-azar told investigators he intentionally hit people to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world."
Taheri-azar, 22, appeared in Orange County District Court in nearby Hillsborough on nine counts of attempted murder and nine counts of assault.
His bail was set at $5.5 million, and he was assigned a public defender, but he said after the hearing: "The truth is my lawyer."
Taheri-azar graduated from North Carolina in December after studying psychology and philosophy. Investigators believe he has spent most of his life in the United States.
On campus, UNC students held what they called an "anti-terrorism" rally.
"We don't want terrorism here, and we're not gonna stand for that where we live and where we go to school," said Kris Wampler, a student at UNC and member of the College Republicans, which helped organize the rally.
About 50 students attended the rally, including several Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.
"When you think in terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said Khurram Bilal Tariq, a 22-year-old junior.
Stephen Mann, an 18-year-old freshman, said he wasn't singling out Islam with his call to label Friday's incident terrorism. He said a member of any religion who did what Taheri-azar is accused of doing should be called a terrorist.
"If you try to hurt someone in the name of a cause, that's terrorism," he said.