CONWAY, Ark. – The man accused of killing an Army private outside an Arkansas recruiting center never suffered torture or beatings while jailed on an immigration violation in Yemen, an official with the country's embassy said Friday.
Embassy spokesman Mohammed Albasha denied claims by Abdulhakim Muhammad's lawyer that the abuse radicalized the man into becoming a terrorist. Instead, Albasha said, the once-idealistic college student from Tennessee found his own way to religious anger after converting to Islam in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Muhammad's claims "are not credible because he is attempting to find any pretext to justify his violent actions, even those that are completely false," Albasha said in a statement to The Associated Press. "He was not subjected to torture that has driven him to become a terrorist against his own fellow American citizens. These allegations are absurd."
The 23-year-old Muhammad appeared briefly Friday in Little Rock District Court. Judge Alice Lightle formally appointed lawyer Jim Hensley, who raised the abuse claim on Thursday, to represent him.
Muhammad, who was silent during the hearing, has pleaded not guilty to a capital murder charge in the death Monday of Pvt. William Long. Another soldier, Pvt. Quinton I. Ezeagwula, was wounded in the shooting. Hensley has said his client wants to hold a news conference with reporters or issue a statement to "explain himself."
Hensley told the AP on Thursday that "hardened" Islamic terrorists inside the prison where Muhammad was held for four months indoctrinated him into their radical beliefs.
Muhammad, born Carlos Bledsoe, traveled to Yemen in September 2007 and taught English in Aden with the British Council for about two months, Albasha said. Muhammad then traveled to San'a, the country's capital, and caught English classes while attending Arabic courses at with a group known as The City Institute, the spokesman said.
Police arrested Muhammad on Nov. 14 for overstaying his visa and living illegally in the Middle Eastern nation, Albasha said. He was deported Jan. 29 to the U.S.
Albasha also confirmed that Muhammad had gotten married while in Yemen, but offered no details about his wife.
Yemen, a lawless and impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden's family. It was the scene of one of al-Qaida's most dramatic pre-9/11 attacks, the 2000 suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the Aden coast that killed 17 American sailors.
Long is scheduled to be buried Monday at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock. Gov. Mike Beebe announced Friday that the state would fly flags at half-staff Monday in Long's honor.