Byline: Julia Duin and Larry Witham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
John Allen Muhammad, the sniper suspect arrested early yesterday, was a convert to Islam who federal sources say sympathized with the September 11 hijackers.
Mr. Muhammad, formerly known as John Allen Williams, was arrested at a rest stop on Interstate 70 at Myersville, Md., along with John Lee Malvo, 17.
Reports said that Mr. Muhammad, 42, converted 17 years ago to the brand of Islam associated with Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. He changed his name a year ago.
Founded in 1931 by Elijah Muhammad as a black separatist group, the Nation of Islam changed course in 1975 to align itself with mainstream Islam, renaming itself the American Muslim Mission. By choosing the same last name as its founder, the sniper suspect may have preferred this less strident version of Islam, said Georgetown University Islamic studies professor John Esposito.
"There's no formal connection we know of to groups like al Qaeda, but his last name is Muhammad," he noted. "I am leery as to what one can say about this. It's the last thing Muslims need right now. This is their worst nightmare."
The present-day Nation of Islam, headed by Mr. Farrakhan, broke with American Muslim Mission and is now based in Chicago. A spokeswoman for the Nation of Islam said it had no connection with Mr. Muhammad.
"We don't know him and we don't know what he's part of," she said.
Police sources said Mr. Muhammad was connected with the Islamic Community Center in Laurel, where he may have served as a guard. He is also said to have put in guard duty during the Million Man March in October 1995.
The Seattle Times described him as "a Muslim convert and former Fort Lewis soldier sympathetic to Islamic terrorists."
The newspaper quoted several federal sources as saying Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo might have been motivated by anti-American sentiments. Both were known to have spoken sympathetically about the September 11 hijackers, the sources said, adding that neither man was believed to be associated with the al Qaeda terrorist network.
No one answered phone calls at the Laurel center yesterday.
American Muslim groups and leaders yesterday quickly distanced themselves from any connection with Mr. …