- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) — A man accused of trying to run down college students in a crowded pedestrian plaza read the Koran and appeared to laugh in court while witnesses described the attack.

Mohammed Taheri-azar, 22, faces nine charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

He has said the March 3 attack at the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus was his revenge on the U.S. government for the deaths of Muslims around the world. No one was seriously injured when he purportedly drove through the plaza, known as the Pit.

At yesterday’s probable-cause hearing, intended to outline the case against Mr. Taheri-azar, he read the Koran during much of the time and seemed to laugh at times during testimony.

Freshman Alex Slater told the court that he had just finished lunch and was walking to class when he noticed a Jeep in the area.

“He rolled up right next to us, and I looked inside the car and there is the driver, and he just stepped on the gas and turned the wheel,” Mr. Slater said. “He just floored it right through the Pit.”

Laila Taheri-azar, Mohammed’s older sister, said outside the hearing that her brother was an average person — a NASCAR fan who enjoyed fishing and camping with his friends.

“Please let us echo in your ears that my brother was and always has been a kind, gentle and pure soul,” she said, reading from a family statement. “His current actions and words are as much a source of shock and distress to us as they are to you.”

Mr. Taheri-azar is a U.S. citizen who was born in Iran. His parents married in Iran in 1972 and were divorced in 2003. He attended high school in Charlotte and graduated from the University of North Carolina last fall.

He was being held yesterday in lieu of $5.5 million bail. If convicted on all counts, he could be sentenced to almost 150 years in prison.

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