SEATTLE – West Coast investigators are digging into the lives of two men named in connection with 13 sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., area, searching for clues as to what may have motivated a killing spree.
John Allen Muhammad, 42, one of the men, is a former soldier at Fort Lewis and said to be sympathetic to the Sept. 11 hijackers, The Seattle Times reported Thursday, quoting unidentified federal officials.
He and John Lee Malvo, 17, a Jamaican citizen believed to be his stepson, may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments, the officials said.
Neither was believed to be associated with the Al Qaeda terrorist network, authorities said.
"It appears that they are and have acted on their own," Bellingham Police Chief Randy Carroll said Thursday.
Muhammad converted to Islam and changed his name last year from John Allen Williams, investigators told the Times .
Muhammad had helped provide security for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan's "Million Man March" in Washington, D.C., according to Leo Dudley, a former Marine who lived a block from Muhammad. National of Islam officials in Chicago had no immediate comment.
Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose, the lead sniper investigator, announced Wednesday that Muhammad was being sought for questioning and called him "armed and dangerous."
Two men were arrested early Thursday after they were found sleeping in their car at a Maryland rest stop, authorities said. Police did not release their names, but a law enforcement source close to the investigation told The Associated Press: "I'm confident that these are indeed the people" sought in the killings.
On Wednesday, federal agents searched the yard at the house in Tacoma where Muhammad once lived. Investigators also combed through Malvo's Bellingham High School student records, reportedly seeking samples of his handwriting.
Muhammad, who was stationed at Fort Lewis in the 1980s and served in the Gulf War, had four children by two marriages that ended in divorce. Both involved bitter custody battles and at least one accusation that he abducted the children, the Times reported. Court records showed no felony record for him in Washington state.
Muhammad was outgoing and "had a good sense of humor. He wasn't a quiet type. He liked to talk. He liked to mingle with people," Carol Williams, his first wife and the mother of his oldest son, told the Times .
She said Muhammad converted to Islam after divorcing her 17 years ago, about the time he joined the Army.
"After he changed his religion, he called and told me what not to feed my child," she said. "I told him as long as he (their son) lived with me, it was up to me."
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Muhammad and Malvo stayed at a homeless shelter in Bellingham, where Mayor Robert Asmundson said the teen had minor run-ins with police but never was charged with a crime.
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Carol Williams said that on one occasion, when their son was in middle school and visited Muhammad in Tacoma, she had to fight a legal battle for the boy's return.
She said Muhammad's second wife, Mildred Green, with whom he had three children, also called her a couple of years ago to tell her Muhammad had abducted their children and to ask for help in getting them back.
Elaina Whitlock, 38, who lived near the family for six years in Tacoma, told the Times that after the divorce from Green, Muhammad was granted weekend visitations but at one point left with the three children.
"Things were going OK with visitations and no one suspected he would take off with them, but then he couldn't have her and he knew it would hurt her if he took the children," Whitlock said. "Her life was her children."
Green was reunited with the children about a year and half ago, Whitlock said.
In the late 1990s, Muhammad provided money to start a karate school, former business partner Felix Strozier told The Associated Press. Muhammad promised to bring students from the local Muslim community, but not enough students came, and the school closed in 1998, Strozier said.
He said he and Muhammad parted on less-than-friendly terms.
"I was honored that he thought enough of me to back me with the school, but then I really got some really ill feelings about him once I had no support," Strozier said.
Muhammad was in excellent shape, former neighbor Dudley said.
"Any time he shook your hand, he would crush it," Dudley told the Times . "He was just country. He was from down South, and the military brought him up here."