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Monday, March 06, 2006

As UNC Confronts Reality of Admitted Campus Terrorist Attack, More Confusion in OU "Suicide Bomber" Case

Mohammed Taheri-azar makes no bones about it. He meant to kill people last week when he drove a rented Jeep into a crowd at the University of North Carolina's Quad. Says he did it "spread the will of Allah." Does that make him an Islamo-fascist terrorist?

It's been more than 48 hours since Taheri-azar's bungled attack - he killed nobody and most of the nine people his vehicle struck were treated and released Friday - and unlike the University of Oklahoma "Suicide Bomber" last fall, no FBI statement has been released declaring no terrorist connections in this latest campus episode.

Michelle Malkin has the latest details on the UNC case, including some suggestions that make it appear likely that Taheri-azar was something of a Muslim fanatic acting as a lone Ranger rather than an Islamist who became a trained operative connected with an al-Qaeda-type terrorist organization.

The biggest difference between the OU and UNC incidents, of course, is the fact Joel Hinrichs died in the explosion of the homemade bomb he concocted of "Mother of Satan" as he sat on a park bench Oct. 1, 2005, near 84,000 watch the OU-Kansas State football game. So Hinrichs is not here to tell us why he did what he did.

Given the abundance of evidence surrounding Hinrichs' death that suggests his death was not merely a suicide - contrary to the official explanation from the FBI - it is not surprising that speculation remains rampant about what actually happened at OU and why.

The FBI and the OU administration have been uniquely unhelpful in sorting things out, having pronounced an utter absence of Hinrichs links to any terrorist activity within 48 hours of his death.

Reasonably intelligent people keep looking at the slowly accumulating evidence in the case, however, and continue to think suicide looks like the least reasonable explanation for why Hinrichs died as he did - in an explosion caused by a highly combustible combination of chemicals favored by Middle Eastern terrorists.

One of the least discussed aspects of the Hinrichs case - for understandable reasons, no doubt - concerns the condition of his after detonation. His father was shown photographs of a "headless corpse" by the FBI several weeks after his son's death.

Hinrichs Senior's description of the body in the photo he was shown by the FBI seems to conflict with what an FBI investigator was told by a bus driver who saw Hinrichs just seconds before and after his death. The bus driver saw only "the bottom half of a man."

Then last week the leader of the Norman, Oklahoma, Police Bomb Squad told Tapscott's Copy Desk that Hinrichs' body was essentially intact, except for the head and most of both arms, which were destroyed in the explosion.

As gruesome and unpleasant to think about as it is, these apparent discrepancies may be important clues in understanding why Hinrichs acted as he did.

So earlier today, I talked at length with Don Laughlin of Oklahoma City - the bus driver who walked within a few feet behind Hinrichs as the OU student sat on the park bench, then walked past him, thinking he was either asleep or praying.

Laughlin remains adamant about what he saw as he approached from behind Hinrichs on the park bench and when he looked back at it the instant after the explosion, which nearly knocked him to the ground:

"He had his face down, with the backpack beside him on the bench. He wasn't moving. I thought he was either asleep or praying, so I kept whistling and walked on past him," Laughlin said.

"I was about 120 paces past him when I heard the explosion. The impact about knocked me down. I saw a big plume of black smoke going up from the bench. At first I thought it was one of the busses," Laughlin said.

"Then I looked at the bench. At first I thought 'well, that's the worst halloween trick ever,' but then I realized what it was I was looking at," Laughlin said. He estimated that he looked at Hinrichs body for "five seconds or so" before the reality of what had just happened hit him.

"I walked around him, his arm was dangling off the back of the bench. It just looked like a bag of legs and black goop plastered all over the bench, all over my bus," Laughlin said.

Asked if he saw a torso, Laughlin said "I didn't see a body, it was just a bunch of goop. It was starting to get dark and maybe I missed it. I remember so vividly that arm dangling off the back of the bench there."

The bomb that killed Hinrichs contained two-to-three pounds of triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an amount sufficient to do a tremendous amount of physical damage had it been detonated inside the nearby football stadium.

Laughlin said there were four or five busses, including his own, parked within a few feet of the park bench and that the immediate area would have had "hundreds of people there after the game."

He said he was questioned only once by the FBI after he gave his initial statement to the Norman Policy Department. He said he has not heard from officials with the investigation since that lone conversation.